The Rescuer’s Path, by Paula Friedman (Plain View, paper, $15.95). Readers will not be surprised to learn that the Portland-based author is also a poet, and brings that spirit her novel. At the heart of this story is Malca, 15 years old when the book opens during the turbulent early 1970s in Washington, DC. Weaned on her mother’s stories of surviving the Holocaust hidden in a gentile friend’s attic, Malca takes that message of rescue and compassion to heart. So when she finds an injured fugitive in a wooded park, she feels obliged to aid him. The Rescuer’s Path is not traditionally written, presented in short chapters jumping back and forth in time and told from varying characters’ perspectives. Really it’s as much a story as a question put to the reader, inspired, according to the author, by the events of 9/11. How do we make peace, both in ourselves, and in the world?
Lucia’s Eyes and Other Stories, by Vancouver, BC based Marina Sonkina (Guernica, paper, $18) is a collection of five novellas, each one an intriguing character study. Sonkina’s characters are lonely people, struggling against a confusing world they cannot contain, and which spirals out of control. Many of the stories are set in pre- and post-Soviet Russia, and Sonkina’s literary and cultural roots are clearly there. Even while bad things are happening to her characters, their situations are evoked with beautiful language.
Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith, by Mackenzie, Falcon and Rahman (SLP, paper, $16.99). The Three Amigos, the clerical triumvirate of Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman, run through a shopping list of things seen as wrong with religion, including “Staking Claim to a One and Only Truth,” “Justifying Brutality in the Name of Faith,” women’s inequality and homophobia. Each writer responds to each subject, explaining his perspective from a personal and theological point of view, in an effort to combat bigotry and chauvinism (of all types) and an important attempt to bridge the interfaith gap.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors (Oxford University Press, cloth, $35). Those who were treated to any of Dr. Levine’s lectures on Judaism and Christianity in Seattle and on Mercer Island last month may want to tackle directly some of the New Testament to which she referred. This scholarly volume gives the ambitious reader a Jewish perspective on the Christian Bible through introductory essays and extensive footnotes. There is no refutation here, but explanations that bring an appropriate Jewish focus on these books whose writers were familiar with Jewish texts and practice, and were often addressing the Jewish community of the time.
Open Minded Torah by William Kolbrener (Continuum, paper, $19.95). The New York-born Modern Orthodox author lives and teaches in Israel, where he is an English literature professor at Bar Ilan University. This collection of short personal essays covers a wide range of topics, illustrating how open mindedness allows us to more genuinely engage with our Judaism. Some of his more moving pieces are about his son who has Down syndrome, but he covers Shakespeare, quantum physics and psychoanalysis, too.
Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat by Yvette Alt Miller (Continuum, cloth, $34.95). For those who want to expand their observance of Shabbat, or to delve into weekly observance more deeply, the author offers clear advice on both a spiritual and practical level. Although she is observant, she recognizes that not all her readers are, so her advice is basic without being condescending, and she attempts to anticipate any questions readers might have. There are recipes, too, of course, and advice on how to keep children occupied during Shabbat afternoon (read: While the adults are trying to nap).
Soul to Soul: Writings from Dark Places by Deborah Masel (Gefen, paper, $14.95). This short and very readable book is the moving narrative of the author’s double journey: Her experiences with Judaism and her experiences being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The American-born author lived in Israel and has since settled in Australia, where she has become a well-known Torah teacher. Her diagnosis forces her to reconsider her personal and professional life and she shares that journey with us with poignancy, humor and great insight.
The Price of Escape by David Unger (Akashic, paper, $15.95). Samuel Berkow is fortunate to have a wealthy uncle give him passage from Germany to Guatemala in 1938. But Sam is a spoiled and sheltered not-so-young man who doesn’t know how to comport himself in difficult situations. The plot unfolds during his first three disastrous days in Guatemala, where he is stuck in a backwater of a poverty-stricken banana company town, rank with sewage flowing through open drainage ditches. Trying to connect with his estranged cousin, he is not sure if he’ll even get the help he needs. Unger vividly captures the steamy, threatening atmosphere of the town and Samuel’s soul.
The Little Bride by Anna Solomon (Riverhead, paper, $15). Solomon drew on Jewish memoirs of settler life on the prairie to create the story of Minna, an orphaned teen in Odessa who becomes a mail-order bride. The America she imagines escaping to is New York, but on her arrival she is whisked to a train for a three day journey to “Sodakota,” where she finds herself living in one room carved out of a hillside with her unskilled, older and very religious farmer husband and his two teenage sons. The story — and Minna’s distress — move along at a good pace in this interesting work of historic fiction.
Jews in Service to the Tsar by Lev Berdnikov (Russian Live, paper, $22). A fascinating account of 28 Jews who served Russian royalty from the 15th to the 19th centuries, including businessmen, diplomats, scholars and doctors, a police chief, minister of finance and two “court jesters.” Originally published in Russian, the book has enjoyed popularity in the author’s native country. The author’s access to untranslated source documents enhanced his research and opens a window onto Russia’s long and conflicted relationship with its Jewish citizens.