BOOKed: December Distractions


When it's too cold to even think of going outside, why not curl up with a good read? Senior Editor Bob Leiter has a quartet of recommendations to keep you busy in a new online feature that will appear at least once a month on our books page.

Book lovers in the region had reason to mourn a bit when it was announced that the Barnes & Noble store in Jenkintown, one of the chain’s most popular in the suburbs, will be closing by the end of the year. The news seemed like yet another blow to bricks-and-mortar bookstores in the age of Internet commerce and the burgeoning popularity of e-books.

The Abington B&N store will remain open — a truly ample megaspace — and that at least continues to give browsers hope. And of course, the chain’s downtown spot on Rittenhouse Square still packs in new releases. But is it just a matter of time before all such institutions whither and fade?

It seems to be an open-ended question as far as publishers are concerned, since they continue printing masses of books every month, including several with Jewish subjects. Here are a quartet of those titles to keep you busy when it's too cold to think of going outside.


I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
(320 pages; Hogarth)

This unusual first novel pulls back the curtain on life among the highly exclusionary Satmar Hasidim. A family chronicle with many layers, it begins in Transylvania in 1939 — not the best of years for Jews throughout Europe. Five-year-old Josef watches as the vicious Iron Guard, Romania’s own brand of homegrown fascists, slaughters his family. He is saved by the family’s Christian maid and raised as her son. Josef then goes on, five years later, to save a young girl named Mila after her parents are killed. He takes Mila to Zalman Stern, a leader among the Satmars. In Zalman's home, Mila is treated as if she were just another of his own children. When communism takes hold in the region during the postwar years, the Stern family flees to Paris, where Zalman tries to raise Mila and his own daughter Atara as if there were no beguiling secular culture surrounding them. This is where the real world bumps up against an almost private universe of deeply held faith. In time, the bonds of tradition begin to frey in dramatic and passionate ways.


Isaac’s Army by Matthew Brzezinski
(496 pages; Random House)

One of the myths of the Holocaust that’s been hardest to dismantle is that the Jews went to their deaths like sheep. No matter the countless testimonies and scholarly works to the contrary — that wherever there were Jews, in concentration camps or ghettos or roaming the forests of Europe, there was resistance of all sorts — the myth for some reason persists. Isaac’s Army may help put this misconception to rest. Author Brzezinski shows that from 1939 on, Jewish underground movements existed with one goal in mind — to liberate Poland from the prison of Nazi occupation. Not all went smoothly, of course; even Polish Christians who wanted to be rid of Nazis often wanted to get rid of Jews as well and stopped at nothing to complete the job. But the book shows that even when the Jews were just a rag-tag band of not particularly well-armed soldiers, they fought back with tre­men­dous determination and ability, especially during the Warsaw ghetto uprising. This is a rousing, highly detailed story of courage and indomitable spirit.


The Future of the Jews by Stuart Eizenstat
(376 pages; Rowman & Littlefield)

Stuart Eizenstat has been many things in his prolific career, having held a number of senior positions in three U.S. administrations. Among them have been chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981); U.S. ambassador to the European Union, under secretary of commerce for international trade, and deputy secretary of the treasury for President Bill Clinton (1993-2001). As far as the worldwide Jewish community is concerned, though, Eizenstat’s most important post may have been as special representative of the president and secretary of state on Holocaust-era issues (also for Clinton). Eizenstat was instrumental in securing re­stitution for survivors and their relatives, whether it meant actual property or funds tied to bank accounts or insurance policies. He documented his pioneering work in the book Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor and the Unfinished Business of World War II.

In his new book, the former ambassador looks into how global forces are transforming the Jewish people and the Jewish state, and — perhaps most important of all — how these developments are affecting the U.S.-Israel relationship. The author weighs various elements in the overall equation: the shift of power from the United States and Europe to Asia and Latin America; the new information age and the rise of globalization; the various battles roiling the Muslim world; and the changing demographics almost everywhere, which have helped give rise to the “new” anti-Semitism and the even more potent effort to deligitimize Israel. The work provides a learned and provocative analysis.


Paris: A Love Story by Kati Marton
(208 pages; Simon & Schuster)

Kati Marton, who has been every interested reader’s guide to the beauties and complexities of her beloved hometown of Budapest, now turns her expert gaze upon Paris, the only capital in all of Europe that gives Budapest a run for its money. (This is said with the knowledge that the fairy tale called Prague is just a step behind). Marton’s memoir is both about Paris and two important men in her life: her first husband, Peter Jennings (with whom she had two children and shared 15 years of marriage), and her late second husband, Richard Holbrooke. Both were men of charm and considerable power in the world of journalism and politics. After the more recent and quite sudden demise of legendary statesman Holbrooke, Marton returns to the French capital where the two first met and fell in love. She then weaves a tripartate portrait of two complex individuals against a number of beloved backdrops that provided the writer a sense of renewal following her deep loss.



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