Happy May! This is coming to you a few days late because I’ve got a lot going on right now: my parents are visiting for the first time since before the pandemic and I started a new day job on Sunday! Scroll down for book recs, two (!) new Literary Modiin events, a recipe and more!
Brief writing update: Fortunately I had some time off between jobs, and I tried to get a lot of writing done (in addition to biking, Pesach prep, etc.). I finished a very rough first draft of a new story which took me down the research rabbit hole of WWII combat medics and nurses, circa Normandy 1944, characters you may remember from my book (Lenny and Mary). I also began a new Jeremiah story and started polishing some of the ones I’ve written in the last year or so. That’s about 13,000 words, not including the revisions. Pretty decent for a month’s work!
An abundance of good news:
In case you missed it, my essay “On Pesach, She” was published by TCJewfolk on the eve of Passover!
Two new acceptances (cue huge grinning emojis here): my essay “Abbaye de Valloires” will be published by Hinterland Magazine this summer. It’s about a trip my son and I took to the abbey in France where my cousin was hidden and saved during the war, and naturally it weaves in my cousin’s story too. More surprising: my short story “Rehabilitation” (about a young couple shortly after a deadly wildfire in Israel) was finally accepted by descant. I say “finally” because I’ve been submitting this one for five years; I had many near misses at different journals (longlisted, short-listed, etc.). The lesson (for those of you who are writers) is: persevere!!
The Book of Jeremiah turns three today! Not only am I filled with gratitude for my wonderful publisher, Press53, and the teachers and writing pals who read and gave critical feedback on different parts of the book, but I’m especially grateful for every reader. Thank you, thank you! In Judaism, on the occasion of a person’s birthday, we say “עד 120” (ad meah v’esrim), may you live until 120, so I suppose I can wish that for my little book as well.
Lastly, for those following my crazy family news, we had our first Zoom call with our newly-discovered cousins in France & Corsica and it was wonderful and moving (and yes, I think I have another essay coming out about that soon).
I’m up to 29 books for the year, only one ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge, but ahead nevertheless.
Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum - I read Atomic Anna in one day - couldn't put it down! Rachel Barenbaum does a fantastic job of weaving the different strands and stories of three generations of strong women. Anna, Molly, Raisa and supporting characters Yulia, Lazar, Daniel, Yasha are all battling their own demons while trying to do what they think is right for their loved ones. It's at once a brilliant meditation on responsibility to family and society while also a fun, page-turning tale of time-travel. Book clubs will find a lot to discuss here!
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara - This 700-page gorilla is the reason I didn’t read as many books as I usually do in April, but I am so glad I read this! To Paradise is a terrific accomplishment (equally brilliant but very different from the author’s A Little Life). This three-part novel spans three different centuries with an alternative version of the American experiment, in which “profound questions of family, inheritance, sovereignty, identity and, above all, the meaning of freedom, are dazzlingly held up to the light,” as the Financial Times puts it. The book can be likened to a symphony, with recurring themes and notes that hold the past, present and future sections together, including a townhouse in Washington Square Park; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; race; the definition of family, and more. We meet (adult) children trying to find their own way in the world with grandfathers trying to protect them. If you’re up for a long book that is a tour de force, I highly recommend this one!
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami - My local book club read this one and indeed, there is much to discuss here! The novel tells the story of two sisters — Natsu and Makiko, as well as Makiko’s silent (and fuming) daughter, Midoriko — in two parts. In part one, Makiko is obsessed with getting breast implants; in part two, Natsu is thinking of having a baby on her own. This sentence in a review on Amazon captures it well: “This book is about feminine struggle, not in a boohoo shrinking violet kind of way but in a hilarious-despite-all-the-trauma way, as these stunted injured female characters manage to overcome their obstacles and demons and find their power.” An excellent read!
See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.
Story of the Month: Avtomat Kalashnikova
Avtomat Kalashnikova (Bellevue Literary Review) by Rachel Hall. An outstanding story that follows the life of the inventor of the Kalashnikov rifle. It’s a meditation on how and why destructive forces are released into the world, and showcases Hall’s talents as a writer. PS If you haven’t read her story collection Heirlooms, I highly recommend it!
I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m very excited for TWO Literary Modiin events, one virtual, one in-person!
Virtual: Sunday, May 22 at 20:00 Israel time / 1:00 pm Eastern / 10 am Pacific to hear from Rachel Barenbaum (Atomic Anna - see above!), Elan Barnehama (Escape Route), and Haviva Ner-David (Dreaming Against the Current). Register here.
In-Person: Sunday, May 29, in Modiin!! Welcome/mingling starting at 19:00, followed by a program at 19:30, featuring Sarah Ansbacher (Ayuni), Dina Elenbogen (Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, an Israeli Story) and Gadi Bossin (If We Could See Forever). RSVP here (exact address to be provided upon registration).
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!
Recipe of the Month: Healthy Eggplant Parmesan
This is a new family favorite, and even my non-vegetable eating son seems to like it. It barely has any breadcrumbs so I even made this on Passover (substituting matzah meal). The key is in roasting the eggplant ahead of time so it gets very soft!
2 medium eggplants, cut in 1/2 in. slices
Tomato sauce (I use homemade, but store-bought is also okay. My homemade recipe: sauté an onion, add basil/oregano, add a can of crushed tomatoes and about 3 TBSP of tomato paste)
2 cups of ricotta or cottage cheese
1/2 c. of grated parmesan
1 c. of grated mozzarella
2 TBSP breadcrumbs
Sprinkle eggplant slices with kosher salt and let set for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Place the slices on two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and sprinkle them with the chopped thyme, salt, and pepper, and drizzle a teaspoon full of olive oil over each tray. Roast at 425 F / 220 C for about 25 minutes, until the eggplant is very tender, turning the slices over midway through the roasting. Meanwhile, grate the parmesan cheese and mix half of it with the ricotta or cottage cheese, and mix the other half with the breadcrumbs.
Once the eggplant is soft enough, begin assembly in a square or rectangle baking dish in the following layers: tomato sauce, single layer of eggplant, 1 cup of the ricotta/cottage mixture, 1/2 cup of mozzarella, single layer of eggplant, sauce, remainder of the ricotta/cottage mixture, remainder of the eggplant slices, 1/2 cup of mozzarella, sauce, and finally the breadcrumb/parmesan layer. Turn up the temp to 450 F / 230 C and bake until the top is golden and sauce is bubbly, around 15 minutes. Enjoy!
I don’t like to leave you on a somber note, but tonight begins Yom Hazikaron, memorial day, during which we remember and honor all of the soldiers who have died in service to our country and those who died in terror attacks. I came across this memorial on a recent bike ride, right next to the site thought to be the graves of the Maccabees. Lastly, this flower, dam hamaccabim (the blood of the Maccabees), is out right now, always in time for Yom Hazikaron.
See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!