November 2022: Two books about writers, two historical fiction novels, and an easy soup that ticks a

Dear friends,

Happy November!! It’s election day here in Israel, again. I went to vote this morning with my 21-year-old daughter, who was voting in her fourth election (!!) since turning 18, and that’s not counting the one she missed. Here’s to democracy, both here and abroad. Scroll down for book recs, our next Literary Modiin events, a recipe and more!


Brief writing update: I am almost, almost done with the first draft of the new Jeremiah story I began this summer. I’ve been revising all the scenes along the way, so it’s an endless cycle of scribbling notes and crossing things out and adding new details/sentences/paragraphs in the margins. When I do feel finished with this round, I’ll put it away for a bit before coming back to revise draft two.


I’ve also taken on revising our family history book in light of our new discovery (see my recent essay Czarna, Reimagined). So that’s another big project. It’s been fun reconnecting or (connecting for the first time) with second and third cousins.


Some nice news: My flash fiction story, End of the Bloom, will be published by Off Topic Publishing, I’m not sure when. My submission queue is completely empty - this hasn’t happened in forever!


Recommended Reading

October was a productive reading month (thank you, Jewish holidays), and I’m now up to 69 books for the year. This month’s recommendations include two books about writers and two historical fiction titles.


House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon - We read this for my local book club and everyone loved it. Yoel Blum is a famous (fictional) Israeli writer who reluctantly travels to his birthplace of Amsterdam for a book event, despite his mother’s explicit request that he never return. When he discovers an unsettling secret about his family and his mother’s wartime years, it calls into question everything he’s known about himself and his family. Yoel understands he’s stumbled on the subject of his next book and takes up residence in a shabby hotel Amsterdam to conduct his research and begin imagining his characters into being. The writer in me appreciated the way Yoel’s story and his characters’ stories are interwoven — it felt very authentic and true. This blurb by Rachel Kadish captures it well: “Emuna Elon has given us an elegant, eloquent novel—a story in which time and language melt to reveal truths that could be told in no other way…an Escher print of a tale.” Highly recommended!


The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell - One of my favorite authors, Maggie O’Farrell has done it again, this time bringing the world of Renaissance Italy to life. The novel tells the tale of the young duchess Lucrezia de' Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court. Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight when she has no choice but to marry the duke of Ferrara, the mysterious Alfonso. Is he a playful sophisticate or a ruthless politician? From the Tampa Bay Times: “As the novel’s two timelines draw together, O’Farrell builds intense suspense. As always, her prose is beautiful, her characters finely drawn, her story wonderfully surprising. [Robert] Browning’s Alfonso [in the poem ‘My Last Duchess’] might have closed a curtain over the portrait of his duchess to declare her his possession, but O’Farrell rips that curtain away and gives her a life.”


The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk - This 965-page novel is not for the faint-hearted! Published in 2014, prior to Tokarczuk’s winning the Nobel Prize, the English translation (by Jennifer Croft) only came out this year. The book, divided into seven sections, follows the comet-like rise and fall of Jacob Frank, a historical figure who claimed to be the messiah, the successor, as it were, of Shabbtai Tzvi. The author has done an impressive job capturing the relations between Frank’s followers (whose practice bears no resemblance to normative Judaism), the rabbis trying to stop Frank’s rise, and the non-Jewish Poles — clergy, government leaders and nobles — who live side-by-side with them. Why did (non-Jewish) Tokarczuk choose this subject and delve deeply into matters of kabbalah, Talmud, and other Jewish topics? I found the answer in a recent Times of Israel article: “ ‘She is interested in anything liminal, anything which is minority, anything that is subversive, that goes against the dominant culture. ‘The Books of Jacob’ is the culmination of this, it’s her magnum opus,’ said Marcin Wodzinski, the head of the University of Wroclaw’s Jewish studies department…In Poland, Jewish culture is the epitome of liminal: It is both omnipresent, in the sense that Jewish cemeteries and synagogue buildings scatter the country and the Holocaust looms large, and distant. Encounters with living Jews are few and far between. This has led many intellectuals, including Tokarczuk, to become fascinated with Jewish culture.” It is certainly a challenge to read, but a fascinating one, and those who stick with it will feel rewarded at the end.


Hell of a Book by Jason Mott - Another novel I enjoyed this month was this National Book Award winner. The story revolves around an unnamed Black author who sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel, and weaves in the stories of two other characters: Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour. At times heartbreaking — a Black man is shot by the police — and at times hilarious, the stories build and converge. I like this blurb from Booklist: “Hell of a Book is a masterwork of balance, as Mott navigates the two narratives and their delicate tonal distinctions. A surrealist feast of imagination that’s brimming with very real horrors, frustrations, and sorrows, it can break your heart and make you laugh out loud at the same time, often on the same page.”


See all 100+ books I’ve recommended since starting this newsletter in April 2020.


Events

I don’t have any events of my own this month, but I’m very excited for the November Literary Modiin event on Sunday, November 20, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Alina Adams (My Mother's Secret), Michael Frank (One Hundred Saturdays) and Nancy Ludmerer (Collateral Damage). Register here.



Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch 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!


Story of the Month: The Final Girl as Middle-Aged Woman

The Final Girl as Middle-Aged Woman (CRAFT) by Amber Sparks. I enjoyed this flash fiction piece very much. I’m not one for horror films, but here the author has turned the slasher genre on its head, with a protagonist — a nameless middle-aged everywoman - who doesn’t have time to be a victim. Enjoy!


Recipe of the Month: Easy Tuscan Vegetable Soup

Welcome to the end of the newsletter, where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. I whipped this up in about 25 minutes the other night and it was a big hit. Plus, it ticks all the boxes if you’ve got vegans or gluten-free people you need to feed.


Ingredients

2 ribs celery

1 red onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 zucchini, diced

1 sweet potato, diced

2 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried rosemary

2 TBSP chopped garlic

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 cup canned yellow corn

6 cups vegetable broth

Olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute celery, onion, carrots in olive oil for a few minutes, and then stir in the oregano, basil, and rosemary. (I think I put some fresh thyme in as well). Add the tomato paste, sweet potato, corn, zucchini and broth. Cook until the vegetables are soft, around 20 minutes or so. Add fresh basil and/or lemon juice at the end. If you’d like to thicken the soup, add a cup of quinoa. Enjoy!


I’ll leave you with a few pictures with some highlights of my month.



Top: Election Day outing to Ashkelon National Park. Bottom: My copies of Hinterland Magazine, with my essay Abbaye de Valloires (finally) arrived; awesome concert with Rita and Rami Kleinstein over Sukkot; cute cacti on one of my rides.

Good luck to all of us re: election results, and see you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!