Bones Beneath Our Feet, by Michael Schein (B&H, paper, $16.95). This book is difficult to read, not because of its rich and dense language — which suits an historical novel — but its tragic 19th-century story. The crux of the tale is Nisqually Chief Leschi, who in 1855 chose war against the territorial white government (called “Bostons”) rather than banishment to a reservation. There is a large cast of characters here, white and native, whose ethics range from best to worst. Leschi eventually was captured and prosecuted for the murder of a soldier killed in a skirmish, convicted and hanged. This era created a win-lose situation for the native population as their lives, land and culture in Puget Sound were taken over. We still share this land with Leschi’s descendants, but the author emphasizes the price one group paid to allow another group to thrive. The book suffers slightly from a shifting narrative voice, but the glossary and character list are well thought out, and the bibliography will help readers further explore local history. Leschi was vindicated in 2004 by an historical court of inquiry, the killing declared one of war “between lawful combatants.”
Daughters of Iraq, by Revital Shiri-Horowitz (independent, paper, $11.21 at Amazon). A novel about one Iraqi family’s immigration to, and settlement in Israel, told from the perspectives of three women: Violet, who died of cancer but whose voice lives on in diary form; her sister Farida, and Violet’s daughter Noa, a young woman trying to figure out her heritage and her life’s direction. Despite some confusion as the viewpoint shifts between characters, the stories hold our attention as we learn of Iraqi Jewish life before and after immigration. The author lived on Seattle’s Eastside for many years, and is now back in Israel.
Baseless Hatred, by René H. Levy, Ph.D. (Gefen, cloth, $26.95). Citing both religious texts and modern political commentary, and drawing on psychology and history, Levy urges us to address “sinat hinam (baseless hatred) among Jews and its antidote arevut (mutual responsibility),” which he explores on interpersonal and international levels. Levy’s scholarly approach makes casual reading a bit difficult, but the advice is practical: Know what makes you hateful, take steps to change it, and be tolerant of others. “Diversity is not fragmentation,” he says: We can learn to get along. Levy is Professor and Chair Emeritus of Pharmaceutics at the University of Washington.
Memoir and Biography
Wendy and the Lost Boys, by Julie Salamon (Penguin, cloth, $29.95). A personality as complicated as Wasserstein’s deserves a book this long and detailed. Salamon interviewed around 600 people to compile information about the playwright who died in 2006 at age 55, from what appeared at the time to be a mysterious illness. Salamon delves into the Wasserstein family psychology — overachieving and demanding, but intensely private — and the theater world that became Wasserstein’s second family. That world included Seattle, where two of Wasserstein’s most popular plays were previewed and revised at the Seattle Rep under the direction of Dan Sullivan. The author treads lightly, perhaps because family and friends still survive, and seems reluctant to analyze Wasserstein’s sometimes bizarre behavior. She tells the stories and leaves us to ponder what made this hugely creative and oversized personality tick.
Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son, by Tom Fields-Meyer (New American Library, paper, $15). This utterly charming memoir is well written, poignant and funny. The author recounts his journey, so far, learning to parent his autistic son Ezra, now about 15. Fields-Meyer — a longtime correspondent for People magazine — blends anecdotes with his inner musings to show how he and his rabbi wife go from strict problem-solving mode to accepting Ezra for who he is. The narration builds in almost novel-like fashion as we wonder how Ezra is going to cope with his Bar Mitzvah. Have a hankie ready.
Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, by Julie Klam (Penguin, cloth, $21.95). Klam has already written one dog-oriented memoir, continuing here with the rescue of Morris the pit bull, found chained to a fence and abandoned in their not-so-savory New York neighborhood. We also learn of her rescued and wacky Boston terriers, her trip to New Orleans to rescue dogs abandoned in the aftermath of Katrina, and how caring for animals helps her and her family put their own problems in perspective. Klam can laugh at herself, and we get to laugh along with her.
The Smartest Woman I Know, by Ilene Beckerman (Algonquin, cloth, $15.95). This whimsical, appealing memoir of the author’s grandparents focuses on Beckerman’s grandmother, Ettie Goldberg, a tough and blunt immigrant with a barely communicative husband. The grandparents eked out a living from their tiny stationery store on New York’s Madison Avenue, and raised their granddaughters, whose mother had died and father had abandoned them. With short chapters and funny illustrations, the author shares memories and lessons from her unconventional childhood.
The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (Encounter, cloth, $23.95). “And everybody hates the Jews,” goes the punch line to Tom Lehrer’s 1968 song, “National Brotherhood Week.” Professor Himmelfarb (emeritus, City University of New York) has grown tired of Jewish history focusing on anti-Semitism and reminds us here that Jews have had supporters, too. In this entertaining and enlightening read, she covers English thinkers who wrote and spoke favorably of Jews in the centuries after Jewish repatriation to the British Isles in 1655, among them Newton, Locke, Smith and Churchill.
Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History, by Delin Colón (independent, paper, $15 at Amazon). As the infamous adviser to Tsar Nicholas II, Rasputin’s perceived main fault may have been his belief in human equality, including for the Jews, and his anti-war stance. These views were reviled by the Russian aristocracy in a time of warmongering and feverish anti-Semitism. As for Rasputin’s prophetic powers, Colón writes, “it does not take a psychic to foresee that the extreme oppression of a large population will…lead to agitation and revolution.” This book becomes a short course on revolutionary Russian history and gets gold stars as an example of a well-produced self-published book.
Lakol Z’man: A Time for Everything, by Yossi Huttler (independent, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org). This little book of short, free-verse poems reflect on the Jewish holiday and liturgical cycle. Many are prayer-like and will enhance the holiday experience. For example, Elijah is a “herald in whose silence/I strain to hear/divine tidings.” The detailed glossary is welcome as Huttler shares his feelings about all major and minor holidays.