Torch in the Dark: One Woman’s Journey, by Hadiyah Joan Carlyle (Book Publishers, paper, $16.95). This is a brave and poignant memoir about the author’s young adult years trying to survive as a single parent in the counter-culture movement, first in California and then in Bellingham. Carlyle’s dream-like writing is entrancing as she takes us on her difficult journey, haunted by memories of abuse and grappling with emotional and physical illness. The title alludes to her career as one of the country’s first women welders since World War II, but also to her son, Washington state Representative Reuven Carlyle. He clearly was a light she followed as they both, in a way, grew up together.
Inhuman Resources, by Rita Weinstein (Amazon, paper/ebook, $2.99) Set in the grittier side of Ballard, this mystery introduces Piper Steele, who is thrust into the world of the jobless and homeless when she loses her job and her unemployment, and turns to a food bank for help. A new friend from the food bank soon turns up murdered and Piper sets out to help solve the mystery. Weinstein draws on people she met and stories she heard setting up a soup kitchen and clothing bank in Ballard. She uses “Inhuman Resources” to draw attention to the struggles of the unemployed and often newly homeless, victims of the current recession.
Matricide, and Uncle Louie, by Michael B. Druxman (Create Space, paper, $9.99 each). Druxman, a Seattle native and Garfield alumni, had a long career as a Hollywood screenwriter. As he notes in his introductions to these screenplays, every screenwriter “has spec scripts sitting on his shelf that did not sell.” Now retired, Druxman has effectively used the independent publishing industry to get these screenplays out in book form so they can entertain us on the page. In “Uncle Louie,” an aging Damon Runyonesque gangster visits his modern-day family in Hollywood in the late 1980s and gets his grand-nephew out of a pickle. “Matricide” is a darker murder mystery set in Seattle, where the violent murder of a former starlet leads a public defender and her ex-cop/ex-husband on an adventure of international intrigue. Screenplays make for quick reads and half the fun is imagining how you yourself would make the movie.
Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka, by Rodger Kamenetz, (Nextbook/Schocken, cloth, $25). This wonderfully imagined and written book delves into two of the author’s literary and religious interests, Kafka and Nachman. Although they lived centuries apart, Kamenetz draws fascinating parallels between the two storytellers, including troubling father-son relationships, an interest in Chassidic tales and a mystical streak. Kamenetz, author of the equally engaging memoir, “The Jew In the Lotus,” wonders, in Kabbalistic fashion, if Kafka somehow influenced Nachman instead of the other way around.
All These Vows: Kol Nidre, edited by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman (Jewish Lights, cloth, $24.95). It is possibly the most perplexing piece of the Jewish liturgy. It’s in Aramaic and it’s a legal document, yet it has become one of the most significant and memorable High Holiday prayers for Jews around the world. This volume, part of the Prayers of Awe series, brings together the writings of 30 scholars and rabbis who analyze and explain this prayer’s history, sources, relevance and contemporary meaning in a very readable way.
Festpredigten: Twenty Festival Sermons (1897-1902), by Isaac Rosenberg, translated from the German by Fred Gottleib (Gefen, cloth, $18.95). The audience for this little book is probably narrow, but even the general reader might be interested in comparing these 110-year-old sermons to what might be heard in our synagogues today. Rosenberg was one of a new and modern type of rabbi who held a secular doctorate and a rabbinical smicha, or ordination. These sermons also represent radical changes in German Jewish culture and religion as Emancipation gained stronger influence and many Jews turned to the growing Reform movement. The translator, a retired physician, escaped Germany on a kindertransport in 1939.
No Way Back: The Journey of a Jew from Baghdad, by J. Daniel Khazzoom with Mairin Khazzoom and Ellen Graham (KOH, cloth, $42.95). This fascinating and moving memoir by a Baghdad-born, now retired, U.S. college professor, is an important historical and sociological document. The author was both young enough and old enough as a child in Iraq to recall family anecdotes and open a personal window on that country’s ancient Jewish culture. A Jewish presence in Iraq dates to biblical times, but Jews often lived as second-class citizens. The author had a mostly pleasant childhood until violent pogroms in 1941 awakened a desire to emigrate to Israel. There he was subjected to a different kind of prejudice against non-European Jews. Educational opportunities eventually took him to doctoral studies at Harvard and research and teaching positions in economics at McGill and UC Berkeley. While he’s had a successful life in the U.S., Khazzoom shares his continued sadness at the loss of his homeland, and the disappointments he encountered in Israel, the land of his dreams.
Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts, by Diana Drew (Jewish Lights, paper, $19.99). This collection of 30 Jewish-themed fabric projects includes step-by-step instructions for quilts, vests, challah covers, torah mantles and more. Each project is introduced with a short biography of the artist who created the piece and a description of the holiday or ritual for which the piece is designed. Divided into home, synagogue, holiday and lifecycle creations, the projects offer those who are talented with a needle to express Judaism through the work of their hands.
The Devil Himself, by Eric Dezenhall, (Dunne, cloth, $25.99). This historical novel illuminates a little-known chapter in American history. It’s the early 1980s and recent Dartmouth graduate Jonah Eastman hopes his internship at the White House will help distance him from his family’s mafia connections. But fate intervenes when his supervisor asks him to reach out — secretly — to his notorious mobster “uncle,” Meyer Lansky, an old family friend. A few of President Reagan’s aides believe that Lansky and associates worked closely with the Navy during World War II to rid the New York waterfront of Nazi infiltrators. Jonah visits the dying Lansky in Miami and sets about writing down his uncle’s contributions to the war effort. What Jonah learns reveals more about his uncle, heritage and country than he could ever imagine. Dezenhall weaves these little-known facts into a story that is both enlightening and entertaining.