In “Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt Robert Gottlieb,” Robert Gottlieb trims away the fat from the storied life of the legendary actress, who was born Jewish and who was later baptized a Roman Catholic. Gottlieb presents a peppy and concise biography rooted in facts and recorded accounts. The book, the debut title in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, looks at the people and places central to Bernhardt’s rise. Read the Forward’s review here.
Novelist Elisa Albert has edited a book of literary essays on the complicated relationships among siblings. In “Freud’s Blind Spot,” writers such as Erica Jong and Julie Orringer examine the powerful yet often complicated bond between brothers and sisters. (Elisa Albert will be a guest on an upcoming Yid Lit podcast.)
In “Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography,” Susan Cheever tells the life story of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott, showing the way she mined her own life to create the American classic. Cheever weaves Alcott’s life with her own thoughts on the creative process and memories from her teenage years, when she identified with Alcott’s autobiographical character, the gutsy and strong-willed Jo March.
Simon and Schuster has re-issued “The Wilder Shores of Love,” a biography of four bold 19th century European women who moved east to Arabia looking for something more. Originally published in 1954 by writer, painter and Vogue editor Lesley Blanch, the book looks at the way romance and adventure drove these women — one encountered pirates and then took up residence in a harem; another dressed as lived as a man. The new edition comes with a forward by Naomi Wolf.
Rabbi Naomi Levy explores her process of coping with her daughter’s diagnosis of a potentially fatal degenerative disease in “Hope Will Find You: My Search for the Wisdom to Stop Waiting and Start Living.” Levy, one of the first female rabbis to be ordained in the Conservative movement, examines the process of renewal she underwent in reaction to this news as both a mother and a spiritual leader. (Levy recently spoke with the Forward.)
Cathy Porter has translated and edited down “The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy.” The journals provide an intimate and psychologically astute look into the life of the wife of the literary giant. Sofia married Leo Tolstoy at age 19, shortly after which she began to writing a journal, a habit that she kept up for 57 years. Her writings convey the ways in which she supported her husband in his ascent to literary greatness, and the ways in which her own greatness was overshadowed by this ascent.
Naomi Ragen’s latest novel, “The Tenth Song,” tells the story of Adam Samuels, a Boston accountant and respected member of the Orthodox Jewish community, whose life is upended when he is charged with funding terrorists. This news serves as a catalyst for the Samuel family to explore wants and needs that had previously remained under the surface, as his wife and daughter explores new paths and roles in Israel.
In “Great House,” the new novel by Nicole Krauss, a massive writing desk anchors four stories set in different times and settings. The desk, which moves between Budapest, England and New York, serves as a stand-in for memory and loss, as the characters around it search to recreate stories lost to history. (“Great House” was reviewed recently in the Forward.)
Yael Hedaya, head writer of the original (Israeli) version of the television show “In Treatment,” has published a novel about life in a rural Israeli town. In “Eden,” Hedaya presents alternating narratives in the voices of a small group of the town’s inhabitants as their community changes from an utopian village in the 1950s to an upscale community. Their stories reveal the residents’ growing pains, as community members deal with failed marriages and pregnancies, as well the disappointments they experience communally in the Israeli countryside.
“Promised Lands: New Jewish American Fiction on Longing and Belonging” is a new collection of previously unpublished short stories by the next generation of Jewish American fiction writers and edited by Derek Rubin. The stories, written specifically for this book, all revolve around the theme of the Promised Land and how it shapes the thinking of Jews today. Contributors include Elisa Albert, Melvin Jules Bukiet, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Lauren Grodstein, Aaron Hamburger, Dara Horn and Lara Vapnyar, among others.
The Young Adult novel “Hush,” by Eishes Chayil — we’re guessing that’s a pen name — tells the story of Gittel, an Orthodox teenager in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, in the aftermath of a friend’s suicide. Gittel is haunted by her community’s refusal to address the incest and rape that led her friend to take her own life, and begins to question the systems she lives in as she prepares to enter an arranged marriage.
Our Rack: Yeshiva Girl YA; Bios of Bernhardt, Alcott
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.