Many of you are wondering why I am not blogging as much this January. There's always a lot on our plate after Christmas, but this year it just seems like I am completely booked doing other stuff from morning to night. I'd like to blame the computer issues, and sure, I spent several hours yesterday reconfiguring my backup software, for example, but it still seems like a cheap excuse.
One thing I've been doing is getting the word out on upcoming events. For example, we have these three upcoming events that have appeal to Jewish audiences. And hey, while I'm doing that, I might as well also turn it into a blog.
On Thursday, February 26, UWM Sam and Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies presents an appearance by Boris Fishman, author of the acclaimed first novel, A Replacement Life. This novel, written by a Russian immigrant, is about Slava Gelman, a journalist who wants to be “a writer”, who is roped into a scheme to forge documents so that his relatives and their friends can apply for Holocaust restitution.
Of A Replacement Life, Joyce Carol Oates offered this praise: “A Replacement Life is a memorable debut by a wonderfully gifted young writer. In tracing the adventures of a ’curator of suffering’ who forges Holocaust restitution claims for his grandfather and his grandfather’s Russian immigrant neighbors in South Brooklyn, Boris Fishman has written a beautifully nuanced, tender, and often very funny novel about conscience and familial loyalty that will linger long in the memory.” Fishman was featured on the front-page New York Times Book Review, where Patricia T. O’Connor wrote “Is there room in American fiction for another brilliant young émigré writer? There had better be, because here he is. Boris Fishman’s first novel, A Replacement Life, is bold, ambitious and wickedly smart.” .
On Wednesday, March 11, we present acclaimed novelist Joseph Kanon, whose latest book is Leaving Berlin. Kanon, a former publishing executive, whose most famous novel, The Good German, was made into a feature film, returns to that nether land that is Berlin after World War II. The city has been divided into zones, and a blockade has left much of the city struggling. Arriving back after 15 years in the United States is Alex Meier, a noted writer, half-Jewish, with socialist leanings, who fled when the Nazis rose to power but left America when the rise of communist witch hunts started pointing at him and the government asked him to name names.
He’s been invited back by the Socialist Germans to be an artist in residence, but what they don’t know is that he’s been recruited by Americans to funnel information, in return for amnesty. What the Germans also don’t know is that the Russians have their own intelligence system and their not sharing information, nor have they made clear that German POWs are being used as slave labor in uranium mines. Things get more complicated when Alex hooks up with Irene, an old flame, now an actress, who is also having an affair with a Russian bigwig. He’s also asked to rat out his publisher, Aaron Stein, when the Russians have him arrested for treason? Oh, and did we mention that Irene’s brother shows up, having escaped from the slave camp, dying of radiation poisoning? Alex Meier finds being a spy is a bit more difficult than he hoped. Great intellectual espionage for Alan Furst fans. And I should note that while Joseph Kanon is not Jewish, his wife is.
More in this article.
On Wednesday, April 1, UW-Madison professor Judith Claire Mitchell comes to Boswell for her new novel, A Reunion of Ghosts. Set in the late 1990s (and going back a century), three sisters in their forties have made a suicide pact, a family tradition that goes back to their great grandmother, wife of the Jewish Nobel prize winning scientist who developed the poisonous gas that was used first in World War I and then in the Nazi death chambers. Judith Claire Mitchell talks about how her tendency to infuse dark and serious subjects with humor might be in part due to her Jewish heritage in this profile.
Now you wouldn’t think that a novel like this would win the hearts of so many readers, but it has, starting with our own Jen Steele. She writes: “"The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations." These are the words that the Alter sisters live by. It has become their motto and this conviction becomes part of the reason they have chosen to die at their own hands on December 31st, 1999. Lady, Vee and Delph Alter have written a suicide note together, which is more than a "goodbye, world" note; it's also a family history. You see, the Alter sisters are descendants of Lenz Otto Alter and Iris Emanuel Alter. Lenz was a chemist and the creator of the poison gas that was first used in WWI. Iris was the first woman to earn a PhD in chemistry and the first in the family to commit suicide. A Reunion of Ghosts is a captivating chronicle of a family and the weight of consequences, which grows heavier with time. It's the quirky, dark comedy, family saga you'll want to read.”
I a happy to note that none of which are on a Friday evening, which sometimes confounds my plans of cultural outreach (like, for example, Steven Pinker last fall or David Treuer (his father was a Holocaust survivor) on February 20. But don't worry, I'm doing Native American outreach for his new novel, Prudence (see another post).
Oh, and congratulations to former David Bezmozgis and Stuart Rojstaczer, both winners of a National Jewish Book Award (for fiction and debut fiction, respectively), both of whom appeared at Boswell for events co-sponsored by the Stahl Center in 2014.