Book Club Reading Lists - 2009-2010

Tolan, Sandy: The Lemon Tree

Seierstad, Asne: 101 days

Auster, Paul: The Brooklyn Follies

Sabar, Ariel: My Father’s Paradise

Boling, David: Guernica

De Rosnay, Tatiana: Sarah’s Key

Zusak, Markus: The Book Thief

Paley, Grace: Collected Stories

Manceau: Songs of the Butcher’sDaughter

Anton, Maggie. Rashi’s Daughter: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France. Plume, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0452295681.
Rachel is the youngest and most beautiful daughter of medieval Jewish scholar Salomon ben Isaac, or “Rashi.” Rachel’s life looks to be one of peaceful scholarship, laughter, and love. But marauders of the First Crusade massacre nearly the entire Jewish population of Germany, and her beloved father suffers a stroke. Rachel is determined to stay in France and help her family save the Troyes yeshiva, the only remnant of the great centers of Jewish learning in Europe.

Herbst, Jurgen. Requiem for a German Past University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. 256p. ISBN13: 978-0299164140
"Herbst illustrates how easy it was for a German boy without strong conviction or religious hatred to climb into a position of leadership in the Nazi Jungvolk . . . indeed, how difficult it would have been for him not to end up in such a place. . . . A unique perspective on everyday life in extreme circumstances."—Wayne Hoffman, Washington Post

Hershon, Joanna. The German Bride. Ballantine Books, 2009. 336p. ISBN-13: 978-0345468468.
A stylish account of a German Jewish young woman's often brutal odyssey to the post–Civil War American Southwest. After a family tragedy in Berlin, Eva Frank flees in shame and guilt to Santa Fe with her new husband, Abraham Shein. Abraham and his older brother, Meyer, are successful dry goods merchants, and once Eva and Abraham arrive in Santa Fe, Eva's narrative becomes a fish-out-of-water story as the promises Abraham made to her fail to materialize.

Idlibym, Ranya ,Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner. The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian and a Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding. Free Press, 2007. 416p. ISBN: 0743290488
In the wake of 9/11, Idliby, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent, sought out fellow mothers of the Jewish and Christian faiths to write a children's book on the commonalities among their respective traditions. In their first meeting, however, the women realized they would have to address their differences first.

Oz, Amos. A Tale of Love and Darkness. Harvest Books, 2005. 560p. ISBN-13: 978-0156032520.
The autobiographical story of a boy growing up in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties, in a small apartment crowded with books in twelve languages and relatives speaking nearly as many. The story of an adolescent whose life has been changed forever by his mother's suicide when he was twelve years old. The story of a man who leaves the constraints of his family and its community of dreamers, scholars, and failed businessmen to join a kibbutz, change his name, marry, have children. The story of a writer who becomes an active participant in the political life of his nation.

Sabar, Ariel. My Father’s Paradise. Algonquin Books, 2008. 325p. ISBN-13: 978-1565124905.
In a remote and dusty corner of the world, forgotten for nearly three thousand years, lived an ancient community of Kurdish Jews so isolated that they still spoke Aramaic. In the 1950s, after the founding of the state of Israel, Yona and his family emigrated there. Yona later became an esteemed professor at UCLA, and dedicated his career to preserving his people's traditions. But to his first-generation American son Ariel, Yona was a reminder of a strange immigrant heritage on which he had turned his back. As father and son travel together to today's postwar Iraq to find what's left of Yona's birthplace, Ariel brings to life the ancient town of Zakho, telling his family's story and discovering his own role in this sweeping saga. What he finds in the Sephardic Jews’ millennia-long survival in Islamic lands is an improbable story of tolerance and hope. Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.

Septembers of Shiraz Dalia Sofer

Disobedience Naomi Alderman

A Pigeon and a Boy meir Shalev

Sarah’s Key Tatiana de Rosnay

Who by Fire Diana Spechler

A Man and a Woman and a Man Savyon Liebrecht

Broken for You Stephanie Kallos

Dreamers of the Day Mary Doria Russell

Homesick Eshkol Nevo

Light Fell Evan Fallenberg

If You Awaken Love Emunah Elon

Apples From the Desert Savyon Liebrecht

Ackerman, Diane. The Zoookeeper’s Wife: A War Story. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 368 p. ISBN: 9780393333060.
Jan and Antonina Zabinski were the Polish zookeepers of the Warsaw Zoo who risked their lives and that of their son, Rhys, to hide hundreds of people, mostly Jews, in empty animal cages and in their home on the zoo grounds during World War II. In a lyrical and majestic way, Diane Ackerman describes Antonina’s intense connection with animals and nature, her ability to handle life threatening situations, her husband’s involvement with the Polish underground which included smuggling Jews out of the ghetto, and their survival under extreme circumstances. The couple were recognized as Righteous Gentiles by the State of Israel.

Aleichem, Sholom. Marienbad. New York: Perigee, 1982. 222 p. ISBN: 0399510133.
Using a series of letters, love notes and telegrams, Sholom Aleichem portrayed the lifestyle of certain middle class urban Jews, mostly from Warsaw, who vacationed in Marienbad to find husbands for their daughters, play cards, gossip, and philander. Just a generation before the start of the destruction of Polish Jewry, their seemingly innocuous entanglements offer a moment of levity and sadness of the world to come. References are made to the World Zionist Congress reflecting the author’s interest in that group. Aliza Shevrin translated this humorous and innovative novel that was written in Yiddish almost 100 years ago.

Brooks, Geraldine. People of the Book. New York: Viking, 2008. 372 p. ISBN: 9780670018215.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Brooks’ novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah starts in the present and goes back in time, fictionalizing what may have happened to this unique Haggadah during the Bosnian War, World War II, Vienna in 1894, Venice in 1609, Taragona in 1492 and Seville in 1480. The protagonist, Hanna Heath, is a young Australian conservator of rare books who unravels the mysteries of the volume based on artifacts she observes. She falls in love with the Bosnian librarian who works at the museum where it is stored. The author offers an intricate, fictionalized history of the incredible survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah, the effects of war and anti-Semitism, a picture of a contemporary Australian woman’s life and a tragic glimpse into certain family relationships.

Etzioni-Halevy, Eva. The Garden of Ruth. New York: Plume, 2007. 294 p. ISBN: 9780452286733.
Narrated both by Osnath, a niece of the prophet Samuel, and the biblical Ruth, this work of biblical fiction provides insight into the periods of the Judges and the Kings. Osnath, who is literate, finds an old message to Ruth, tries to discover more about Ruth’s life by probing family secrets, matures in the process, and concludes by writing a scroll about Ruth’s story In order to appreciate this well conceived novel the book club re-read the biblical book as well: Tanakh The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation According To The Traditional Hebrew Text: RUTH, pages 1419-1424. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985. ISBN: 9780827603660.

Hershon, Joanna. The German Bride. New York: Ballantine, 2008. 302 p. ISBN: 9780345468468.
In the 1860s, a somewhat pampered but sensitive young girl in Berlin becomes the bride of a smooth-talking German merchant who is now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The novel provides a cameo of life both in Germany and in the Wild West as well as character explorations of Jewish business and family life as pioneers. Eva Frank Shein, her husband Abraham, his brother Morris, her Uncle Alfred (who is only referred to in the narrative and in letters), Bishop Lagrande, Beatrice Spiegelman and others remain with the reader long after the book has ended.

Lagnado, Lucette. The Man In The White Sharkskin Suit: My Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 304.p. ISBN: 9780060822125.
The author, an award-winning journalist, recounts the charmed life she had in Cairo until the family, like many other Egyptians Jews, was forced to flee in 1963, first to Paris, then London, then the United States. Lagnado was very close to her father, nicknamed The Captain, who spoke many languages, ran a business without an office, mixed with royalty, partied at night, was not the best husband, but was a hero to his youngest daughter who adored him. Poignant in its depiction of family relationships, this memoir provides a picture of pre-Nasser Egypt as well as one immigrant family’s experiences.

Leshem, Ron. Beaufort. New York: Bantam Delta, 2008. 357.p. ISBN: 9780553385298.
Translated from the Hebrew by Evan Falkenberg, the novel brings to life the situation that existed during the last year prior to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Beaufort, a medieval castle located on an isolated outpost on the Lebanese-Israel border. The leader of the unit, Erez. is a twenty-two year old who attempts to get the disparate group to bond and feel that they are there for a just cause. Compelling, but in ways controversial, Leshem’s description of young men under tense, life-and-death conditions is raw and powerful.

Malamud, Bernard. The Fixer. New York.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004 edition. 352 p. ISBN: 9780374529383.
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1967, Malamud’s classic tale of the imprisonment of a Ukrainian handyman for a crime he did not commit depicts the anti-Semitism that existed in Tsarist Russia during the early 20th century and is based on the 1913 blood libel accusations against Mendel Beilis. In The Fixer, the reader becomes part of Yaakov Bok’s imprisonment and lives with his innermost thoughts and aspirations. Set in Kiev, 1911, the characters and the life of Jews at that time are haunting.

Sabar, Ariel. My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2008. 332 p. ISBN: 9781565124905.
The touching story of Yona Sabar, a highly regarded professor of Neo-Aramaic at UCLA, as told by Ariel, his journalist son, who for years could not understand his father’s ways and customs, is revealed in this mesmerizing account. When Ariel’s first child was born he began to reflect on the father-son relationship and started to research and retrace Yona’s life as a child in the remote dusty village of Zakho, Kurdistan. Yona, age 10, and his family fled to Israel where Kurds found little sympathy or understanding, but later in the United States Yona earned an advanced degree at Yale before becoming a university professor. This is spellbinding journey into ancient history, current events, religion, different cultures and family relationships.

Schein, Elyse; Bernstein, Paula. Identical Strangers: A Memoir Of Twins Separated And Reunited. New York: Random House, 2007. 266 p. ISBN:9781400064960.
Both Elyse and Paula knew they had been adopted, but it was not until they were in their mid-thirties that they connected with each other. What was disturbing was the fact that they were separated as infants because a group of psychiatrists theorized that being brought up as a twin was not good for twins or their families. This theory is no longer practiced but it adds to the sadness of the separation. Their memoir reflects the lives and feelings of the sisters, each of whom is a writer. Color photgraphs of the women at comparable ages enhance the intensity of their memoir.

Shalev, Meir. A Pigeon and a Boy. New York: Schocken, 2007. 312 p. ISBN:9780805242515.
A lyrical and deeply affecting story of Yair Mendelsohn. an Israeli travel guide whose birth was related to the 1948 War of Independence, is a carefully observed and constructed commentary on Israeli society, family and friendships, as well as a tribute to the geographical and natural history of the land. Characters are well delineated and the dialogue is crisp, funny, tender and often ironic. Much is written about the care and training of homing pigeons as messengers during periods of war and peace. Shalev also uses the literary form of magical realism which gives the tale a somewhat outer-worldly flavor. Evan Falkenberg’s translation flows smoothly.

Silva, Daniel. Moscow Rules. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 2008. ISBN: 9780399155017.
Art restorer and Israeli spy Gabriel Allon cuts short his honeymoon as he is unwittingly drawn into the world of Russian espionage. He attempts to save the lives of the wife and children of Ivan Kharkov, a wealthy, immoral industrialist who is in the midst of negotiating a deal to deliver deadly weapons to al-Qaeda. The mystery novel also tackles the unnerving issue of incidents of apparent poisonings of Soviet journalists. In this eighth Allon suspense thriller, Silva has written another contemporary and page-turning work.

Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Golems of Gotham by Thane Rossenbaum

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

De Rosnay, Tatiana. Sarah’s Key. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007. ISBN 9780312370831.
On the 60th anniversary of the 1942 roundup of Jews by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv section of Paris, American journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article on this dark episode during World War II and embarks on investigation that leads her to long-hidden family secrets and to the ordeal of Sarah, a young girl caught up in the raid. Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

Horn, Dara. All Other Nights. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2009. ISBN 9780393064926.
How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army during the Civil War, it is a question his commanders have already answered for him - on Passover, 1862, he is ordered to murder his own uncle in New Orleans, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. After this harrowing mission, Jacob is recruited to pursue another enemy agent, the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time, his assignment isn’t to murder the spy, but to marry her. In this eagerly awaited third novel, award-winning author Dara Horn brings us page-turning storytelling at its best. Layered with meaning, she presents the most American of subjects with originality and insight.

Lagnado, Lucette. The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. ISBN 9780060822125.
Lucette Lagnado's father Leon is a successful Egyptian businessman and boulevardier who makes deals and trades at Shepherd's Hotel and at the dark bar of the Nile Hilton. After the fall of King Farouk and the rise of the Nasser dictatorship, Leon loses everything and his family is forced to flee, abandoning a life once marked by beauty and luxury to plunge into hardship and poverty. A vivid, heartbreaking, and powerful inversion of the American dream, this unforgettable memoir is a sweeping story of family, faith, tradition, tragedy, and triumph set against the stunning backdrop of Cairo, Paris, and New York.

Manseau, Peter. Songs for the Butcher's Daughter. New York: Free Press, 2008. ISBN 9781416538707.
While working in a book warehouse in western Massachusetts during the summer of 1996, a young man becomes involved with a woman, a language, and a great lie that will define his future. Most auspiciously of all, he runs across Itsik Malpesh, a ninety something Russian immigrant who claims to be the last Yiddish poet in America. When a set of accounting ledgers in which Malpesh has written his memoirs surfaces, the young man is compelled to translate them, telling Malpesh's story as his own life unfolds, and bringing together two paths that coincide in shocking and unexpected ways. A novel of faith lost and hope found in translation, this is an immigrant's epic saga, a love story for the ages, and a Yiddish-inflected laughing-through-tears tour of world history.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider's look at the daily life of a biblical “sorority.” Told in the voice of Jacob's daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to fascinating feminine voices as Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah -- all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals their sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets.

Water From the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah by Anne Roiphe. This creative examination of four biblical matriarchs reflects the author’s continuing emphasis on the relationships between women and their children. Roiphe embroiders the terse accounts of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah in Genesis by using her own imagination and by drawing on prayerbooks, Talmud, midrash, the Zohar and several collections of legends. The result is a colorful, character-driven portrayal of the women, emphasizing their experiences as wives and mothers.

Zipporah, Wife of Moses by Marek Halter. Zipporah is a Cushite, a black woman, and though she has found love and acceptance in her adoptive family, it's unlikely she will find a husband. Then she has a dream about an Egyptian prince, and before long, Moses appears -- but a diffident Moses, very different from the biblical version. The focus here is clearly on Zipporah rather than Moses or even God. Halter builds her character not only by re-creating her most intimate thoughts but also by providing vivid details of her daily life in the desert.

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy. Those who like their Bible with a little spice will find plenty to admire in this absorbing and riveting tale of one of the most beloved figures in the Old Testament. Deborah, a revered judge, must find a way to balance her powerful work life with her traditional marriage. Filled with brilliantly vivid historical detail, this book is a tribute to feminine strength and independence.

The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn. In this eloquent retelling of the Jewish heroine's rise from orphan-hood to royalty, Kohn brings psychological nuance and stately elegance to the ancient biblical tale that is the basis for our holiday of Purim. Along the way we learn about palace life, social customs, sexual practices, the place of women, and war and politics. Kohn deftly fills the gaps and resolves the ambiguities in the Book of Esther with creative storytelling and historical research. As Esther recognizes her strengths and responsibilities and learns the ways of the palace, so do we.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This book unlocks the star crossed, heart thumping story of an American journalist in Paris and the 60-year-old Holocaust secret that could destroy her marriage.

The Year that Follows by Scott Lasser

The novel is an tender exploration of relationships, lost and found, after the events of 9/11. The Detroit connection in the story is an added appeal.

My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar

Readers can only be grateful to Sabar for unearthing the history of a family, a people and a very different image of Iraq. He offers something rare and precious—a tale of hope and continuity that can be passed on for generations.

A Pigeon and A Boy by Meir Shalev

“Intertwining two love stories with Israel’s fight for independence, the novel offers a compelling portrait of Israel’s period before statehood to the present day.” “This gem of a story about the power of love, which won Israel's Brenner Prize, brims with luminous originality.”

Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad by Bob Morris

“Morris, a writer for the New York Times, mixes humor and social commentary in this courageous book, revealing the bitter grief of his mother's death and the joyous re-emergence into life of Joe, his widowed father.”

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

On Passover 1862, Jacob Rappaport is ordered by a Union commander to kill his uncle (who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln), and this particular evening changes forever his view of religious tradition, love, and integrity.

Peony (by Pearl Buck)

Why Faith Matters (by Rabbi David Wolpe)

Sarah's Key (by Tatiana de Rosnay)

Family Portrait (by Ann Wainer) (will be led by the author)

The Book Thief (by Marcus Zusak)

Gertruda's Oath: A Child, a Promise, and a Heroic Escape During World War II by Ram Oren (translated from the Hebrew)

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

Light stories by a famous American humorist. A perennial book club favorite.

A New Zealand-based music professor who grew up in Sweden searches for his roots after the loss of his daughter in a novel that explores the impact of history on individual lives.

Historical fiction set during the Civil War raises important ethical questions. By the author of IN THE IMAGE and THE WORLD TO COME.

Eight intertwined short stories about the a family in New Jersey chronicles the life struggles of “ordinary people.” Significant Book of the Year by URJ.

Two interwoven stories attesting to the enduring power of log and longing for one’s home, one set in contemporary Israel, the other before and during the War of Independence. Winner of 2007 National Jewish Book Award.

THE GERMAN BRIDE, Joanna Hershon
A woman escapes from her life of shame & guilt in 19th century Germany by marrying and moving to post-Civil War Santa Fe, NM.

A scholarly biography of the Dona Gracia Nasi, the 16th century feminist who fled the Inquisition and actually ran a complex banking empire.

SARA’S KEY, Tatiana de Rosnay
A novel about the 1942 Paris roundups & deportations. Centers around an American living in Paris 60 yrs after the war who tries to find out about the fate of Jews who formerly owned her apartment.

ONE MORE YEAR, Sana Krasikov
Short stories about the hope and despair that write in the hearts of Russian émigrés to the US/East Coast. Winner of 2009 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.


An interpretation of the story of the biblical judge who “cracked the glass ceiling” over 3,000 yrs ago without losing her feminity.

Silver, Marisa The God of War. Simon & Schuster, 2008. In this movingly written novel by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver's granddaughter, a boy on the threshold of adolescence struggles with the burden of responsibily for his troubled family.

De Rosnay, Tatania Sarah's Key St. Martin's Press, 2007. When an American journalist, Julia Jarmond, is asked to wirte an article about the 60th anniversary of the horrific 1942 French Vel d'Hiv roundup of Jews, her story becomes entertwined with the story of Sarah, a ten-year-old who tried sixty years ago in Paris to save her brother by locking him in a bedroom cupboard, thinking she would be back from the police roundup in a few hours."A mesmerizing story in which a tragic past unfolds, the present is torn apart, and the future is irrevocably altered." ( Publisher's description.)

Etzioni-Halevy The Triumph of Deborah Plume/Penguin, 2008. Filled with brilliantly vivid historical detail, this is a richly imagined tale of the courageous Biblical warrior, Deborah, who saved her people from destruction by the Canaanites.

Blum, Jenna Those Who Save Us Harcourt, 2004. This page-turner is told from the viewpoint of a daughter researching her German Jewish mother's heartbreaking past. A story of Holocaust survivors and collaborators, it takes place both during and after World War II, and shows what people had to do to survive.

Sabar, Ariel My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008. In this sweeping saga, Ariel Sabar attempts to reconcile present and past as he travels with his father, Yona, a UCLA professor, to present day postwar Iraq. Here they try to recreate what is left of Yona's birthplace.

Yellin, Tamar The Genizah at the House of Shepher. The author draws on incidents in her own life, as she describes how Shulamit, an English biblical scholar, visits her grandparents' home in Jerusalem, where she becomes enmeshed in a family feud over possession of the Shepher Cidex. In this award-winning novel, she traces the origin of this mysterious, valuable manuscript, and learns about the history of the four generations of Shephers.

Appelfeld, Aharon Laish. Schocken, 2009. "Concentration camp survivor Appelfeld delivers a beautifully written, deeply disturbing tale of pilgrims on route to Jerusalem in pre-world War II Eastern Europe, narrated by Laish, a 15-year-old orphan." ( Publisher's Weekly.)

Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay

Foreskin’s Lament, Shalom Auslander

Light Fell, Evan Fallenberg

Raquela: A Woman of Israel, Ruth Gruber

The Collaborator of Bethlehem, Matt Beynon Rees

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, Bruce Feiler

My Father’s Paradise, Ariel Sabar

The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick

To This Day, S. Y. Agnon

All Other Nights, Dara Horn