As Alyson Richman’s novel The Lost Wife (Berkeley, paper, $15) opens, an elderly man attending his grandson’s wedding realizes the bride’s grandmother is the woman he married in Prague right before the Nazi invasion. Losing contact, each presumed the other was dead. The rest of the novel goes back and forth in perspective between Lenka and Josef and their separate survivals. Lenka became an artist in the Terezín concentration camp’s drawing workshop, where Jewish artists copied famous paintings, and Josef escapes to America with a lifetime of guilt for failing to bring Lenka along.
Richman was inspired by a number of true stories, but journalist Leslie Maitland tells the more compelling and absorbing true story in Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed (Other, cloth, $27.95). In a dramatic account worthy of a fictional epic, Maitland explores family history focusing on her mother, Janine, who was separated from her fiancé in the confusion and panic surrounding the Nazi invasion of France. Compelled by her family to board the fabled ship Lipari, Janine’s escape takes her to Casablanca, Jamaica, Mexico, and internment in Cuba before she gets to New York. Through all that, and subsequent marriage and family, she clung to the hope of reuniting with her beloved, a Catholic Frenchman she left behind.
To appreciate The ABC of Sales: Lessons from a Superstar (Gold Star, paper, $19.95) it helps to know about the author, Daniel Milstein. The founder and CEO of Gold Star Mortgage Financial was a teen when his family left post-Soviet Russia for the US, where he struggled to learn the language, floundered in school, and found refuge in work. He worked fast and furiously — compulsively, even — but it resulted in his successful mortgage and financial business. He shares how he did it with lots of practical advice from someone who really proved the American Dream.
The truth is, you’re probably going to pick up David Fishof’s Rock Your Business (BenBella, paper, $14.95) less for business advice and more for the stories about all the music stars he’s worked with. Learn why Fishof, founder and CEO of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, had a rare Yellow Submarine jukebox and how Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler came to be an “American Idol” judge. Fishof tells how the camp got featured on an episode of the Simpsons and gives out solid business advice, too. Lots of photos of famous people accompany the text.
Scholar and rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut brings both scholarship and entertainment to A Kosher Christmas (Rutgers University, paper, $22.95). The short but fact-filled examination of the role of Christmas in the lives of American Jews is part history and part sociology (it’s priced like a text book — the hardcover will run you $68), but there is much to interest the general audience. Plaut examines the different attitudes toward Christmas of German and Eastern European Jews and how they played out in this country, why we eat Chinese food on Christmas, and how Hanukkah has risen in popularity alongside the birth and growth of the state of Israel.
Editors Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy have assembled some first-rate writers in Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame (Twelve, cloth, $26.99). Journalism and literary luminaries such as Jeffrey Goldberg, Deborah Lipstadt, Simon Schama, and David Remnick explore the careers of world-class, and not-so-world-class, Jewish athletes. The book opens with “The King’s Pugilist” Daniel Mendoza, an 18th-century British boxer whose notoriety merited him a meeting with King George III, and concludes with Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. In between are Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax and plenty of others probably unknown to most. There’s even a profile of competitive eater Don Lerman, who holds the world record for the most butter eaten in five minutes (3 1/2 pounds).
In A Light Unto My Path: A Mezuzah Anthology (Maon Noam, cloth, $15), Dr. Alexander Poltorak takes on a subject ever-present in Jewish life, but which he says has almost never been comprehensively examined: The mezuzah. Poltorak, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and is the CEO of General Patent Corporation, also writes on Torah and science for Chabad.org, where this book can be found in electronic format. In addition to explaining the history and significance of the mezuzah, Poltorak describes the Chassidic and mystical aspects in depth.
You certainly know that the banana you sliced into your cereal this morning did not come from the United States. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, cloth, $27) is the story of how that fruit became ubiquitous in America, and it’s the story of a penniless Russian Jewish immigrant who saw an opportunity on the docks of New Orleans in the early part of the 20th century. Sam Zemurry started buying and quickly selling the bananas that had ripened in transport, which would spoil before hitting the markets and therefore be discarded. He eventually took over United Fruit, amassing a multi-million dollar fortune on the way.
Naomi Wolf tackles the social and scientific history of the defining female organ in Vagina: A New Biography (Ecco, cloth, $27.99). This is a fascinating look at biology and behavior toward the subject that has, over human history, gone from object of veneration to object of derision. Wolf explores the science that reveals the complex nerve system that connects vagina to brain, and how both language and sexual assault are used not for gratification, but for subjugation. It’s a radical and enlightening book that should be read by both sexes.