I hope your March has been pleasant, despite the horrible news from Israel this week (several deadly terror attacks) and the war in Ukraine. On a personal note, my month has been filled with some nice and crazy family news — we’ve officially welcomed a new dog, Joey (see below); my in-laws are visiting us in Israel for the first time in four years; more on the “crazy” news below — as well as some excellent bike rides, a freezing, rainy half-marathon in Jerusalem and, of course, lots of good books.
Today marks two years of this newsletter. Thank you so much for your support. Scroll down for book recs, a new Literary Modiin event, recipes and more!
Brief writing update: I’ve finished a first draft of my “man on the moon” Jeremiah story. Like the others, it will require a ton of revising and editing, but for now I’m trying to create, create, create and I’ll get back to this one eventually. I also took some time this past month to write an essay about my crazy family news, a good segue into...
Crazy family news related to my writing: Some time ago, I wrote a creative nonfiction piece, For Czarna (published by Jewish Women’s Archive). It memorialized my great aunt Czarna, who was killed at Auschwitz, and her only child, a son, Joseph, who survived. A few months ago, as a result of that piece, I was contacted by a woman in Corsica doing genealogical research; she’d recently obtained the birth certificate for her grandmother, who’d been “abandoned” (her word) at birth in 1930. Czarna was listed as the birth mother. Needless to say, our family had no knowledge of Czarna having a daughter, but the details seemed to match “our” Czarna, who was not yet married in 1930. Months of back and forth (thank you, Google Translate), exchanging documents, stories, pictures, and finally, this past month, the results of DNA testing — a match! This means I have four newly-discovered second cousins living in central France! I do so wish that Czarna’s son and daughter could have known about each other while they were alive, but at least their children and other relatives can meet now. I hope to organize a Zoom reunion soon.
I’m up to 24 books for the year, four ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge.
After Abel and Other Stories by Michal Lemberger: This collection, which was a finalist for a host of Jewish book awards, is modern midrash at it’s finest. (Midrash = a form of literature that interprets and elaborates upon biblical texts). The nine stories in this collection are written from the point of view of different women in the bible, most of whom, I’ll admit, I’d never given much thought to previously. Many of the women are known for one thing - Lot’s wife for turning into a pillar of salt, Zeresh for being Haman’s wife - and others, like Miriam and Hagar are more well known. The author gives these women full backstories and rich narratives. I agree with this blurb from Dara Horn: “The women I thought I knew have come alive in these gorgeous and captivating stories, and they are unlike anything I expected. Their bravery and radiance remained in my mind long after I finished reading.” Highly recommended (and thanks to Erika Dreifus for the recommendation)!
Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie: Geographies of the Heart is my kind of novel: a warm, tender tale of the Macmillan family, with one daughter Sarah, at the center. Sarah is the glue keeping several generations of her family together - grandparents, parents, her husband Al, her daughters and her sister Glennie. The relationship between Sarah and Glennie, though bound by love and duty, is a fraught one, filled with resentment and disappointment, until Al forces Sarah’s hand to make room for a momentous change in their smaller family unit. Reading this book was like being enveloped in a favorite sweater - familiar, comfortable, and warm - with beautiful prose and a gentle, uplifting story. I especially liked this blurb from Southern Literary Review: “This novel of four generations is rich in nuance and its warmth and generosity leave a lasting impression.” By the way, in one of my earlier newsletters, I also recommended Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut short story collection, To Lay Our Ghosts to Rest. Highly recommend both!
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy: This debut novel is a beautiful meditation on a disappearing world and our responsibilities towards the (non-human) creatures inhabiting the earth. Franny Stone has a plan to follow the last Arctic terns in the world from Greenland through their migration to Antarctica. She talks her way onto a fishing boat, and sets sail with the crew, traveling ever further from shore and safety. It’s a page-turner that I finished in one day. I liked this blurb from the NYT: “Visceral and haunting…As well as a first-rate work of climate fiction, Migrations is also a clever reimagining of Moby-Dick…This novel’s prose soars with its transporting descriptions of the planet’s landscapes and their dwindling inhabitants…”
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: A fantastic story collection with a rich, varied cast of characters, that explores desire, loss, violence and love. Each story is vividly told and felt: Two college roommates have a devastating middle-aged reunion. A proud old man rages powerlessly in his granddaughter's hospital room. A writer receives a visit from all the men who have tried to suppress her voice. Or as the Portland Press Herald puts it: “Story for story, this collection is simply a knockout.”
Here’s Joey, posing with two of the books (I borrowed Migrations and I listened to Five Tuesdays in Winter).
See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.
Story of the Month: Phoenix
Phoenix (New England Review) by Rob Franklin. I enjoyed this well-crafted story about an aspiring young writer who lends a hand to an older, ill writer.
I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m very excited for our April Literary Modiin event! Join me on Sunday, April 24 at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern / 10:00 am Pacific to hear from Omer Friedlander (The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land), Rutu Modan (Tunnels), and Patrick Hicks (In the Shadow of Dora). Register here.
Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch all of them here!
As always, if you’re in a book club or know someone who is, I’d be happy to discuss The Book of Jeremiah with your group!
Prompt of the Month: Free Time
Write a story/poem in which your main character has oodles of free time. How will he spend it? Will she be paralyzed by too many possibilities? Is this something they’ve been fantasizing about for a long time? What is time, anyway?
Recipe of the Month: Chicken Pandora with Sundried Tomatoes and Artichokes
An oldie but goodie. This recipe comes from one of three mimeographed sets of recipes shared among my college roommates. (We cooked up quite a storm in our Plimpton and Centennial suites at Barnard; one friend, upon visiting from Brandeis, told me that seeing us cook Shabbat dinners made him realize that we were “real” adults now.) Two bonuses about this recipe: 1) it’s kosher for Passover; 2) the leftovers are great for salad. Chop up the chicken a bit more, add some lettuce, fresh peppers and whatever else you want, and voila, a delicious chicken salad.
1/2 c. red wine or balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. + 1 TSBP olive oil
1/2 c. fresh oregano
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, smashed/minced
3 bay leaves
1 c. black olives (optional)
5 lbs/2.2 kg chicken breasts
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 c. red wine
8 shallots, chopped
1 c. sun-dried tomatoes, halved
2 16 oz cans artichoke hearts or bottoms, drained
In a 9x12 baking dish, mix wine vinegar, olive oil, herbs, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and olives. Add chicken breasts and marinate in the refrigerator overnight or for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Sprinkle with brown sugar and red wine and bake for one hour. While the chicken is cooking, sauté the shallots in olive oil. Add sundried tomatoes and artichokes and continue sautéing for a few more minutes. When the chicken is done, cut into bite-sized pieces and return to the baking dish. Pour the sundried tomato mixture over the chicken and reheat for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and serve.
Original recipe on the left; bonus recipe (leftovers turned into a salad) on the right.
Lastly - Passover is coming! If you missed my Passover cookbook, which went out in my first-ever newsletter two years ago, download a copy here.
Happy Passover or Easter or whatever you’re celebrating in April. See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!