Guest Blogger: Jacob Rubin

March 17, 2015
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Win a copy of Jacob Rubin’s caffeinated and wildly comic debut novel, which was recently selected a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick for spring 2015 and named a one of Huffington Post’s 2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read.

In the same vein as George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte, THE POSER chronicles the hijinks and crises of Giovanni Bernini, the World’s Greatest Impressionist—a man whose bizarre compulsion and ability to imitate anyone he meets catapults him from small-town obscurity to widespread fame. As he describes it, “No one disguise is perfect. There is in every person, no matter how graceful, a seam, a thread curling out of them. . . .  When pulled by the right hands, it will unravel the person entire.”

Honed by his theatrical mother at a young age, his talent eventually takes him from his hometown to the nightclubs of the City and eventually the sound stages of Fantasma Falls, the glamorous, west coast city similar to Hollywood. As Giovanni’s fame grows, he encounters a cast of provocative characters—including an exuberant manager, a mysterious chanteuse, an enigmatic psychoanalyst, and a deaf obsessive compulsive—and becomes increasingly trapped inside many personas. When his bizarre talent comes to define him, Giovanni is forced to assume the one identity he has never been able to master: his own.

At its heart, the novel speaks to the power of performance, impersonation, acting, and what it means to find and understand the essence of someone, and of yourself. I think author Sam Lipsyte nails it when he says Rubin “is a great hope for comic fiction in the 21st century.” Though THE POSER is his debut, it certainly announces the arrival of a new and unmistakable voice in American fiction.

Check out the Book Trailer

Q&A with Jacob Rubin, author of THE POSER

Giovanni Bernini, The Poser’s protagonist, is known as the World’s Greatest Impressionist. He’s born with the uncanny ability to imitate anyone he meets instantaneously. Throughout the literary spectrum, plenty of stories have been written about performers or performing, but not impressionists specifically. How did you conjure up such an interesting character?

The Poser began, oddly enough, in the trash. Years ago I was working on a not very good short story about a man who wakes up in a woman’s apartment after a one-night stand. Remembering little of the night before, he begins to root around in her garbage for clues. One of the items he finds was, to my surprise, a black-and-white photo of a famed impressionist, a man who could famously imitate anyone he met. As I soon discovered, I was much more interested in this unexpected performer than I was in the guy who discovered him. I scrapped the story right then and wrote another one, very quickly, about this character Giovanni Bernini. After many years, it became The Poser.

You have experience as a performer—both as a juggler for hire and as the lead rapper of the hip-hop group Witness Protection Program, opening for groups like Jurassic Five and Blackalicious, to name a few. How has your background as a performer influenced the creation of Giovanni Bernini?

I can’t seem to get away from performance, in life or in writing. Personae, masks, fraudulence, disguise—all have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I think a lot about that Picasso line: that art is a “lie that tells the truth.” It seems to me this paradox can obtain in life, too. Like, I once read an article in the Times about a survivor of 9/11, a woman who had been in the south tower when the planes hit. After the tragedy, she organized these legendary support groups. They were these deeply cathartic events, arranged with great thought and care. Survivors and relatives of victims depended on her entirely, so strong was her empathy. Only later did it come out that this woman hadn’t been in the towers at all—she made the whole thing up. I find such behavior deeply disturbing, of course, but fascinating, too. The lie, for this woman at least, clearly felt like an emotional truth.

I did stand-up comedy for a little while, and I think the status of the stand-up comedian reflects a similar paradox: instead of a lie that tells the truth, maybe a stand-up states a truth so serious it has to be packaged as a joke. The stage offers a kind of loophole, a free zone in which what would otherwise be punishably inappropriate can be aired with impunity, even to applause. It’s what performance offers in general, I think: this magical, cordoned-off space where people can lie, hurl abuse, decompensate, and the crowd hoorahs! In The Poser, I wanted to explore a character who finds that his previously outrageous behavior is celebrated simply because it’s put on the stage.

A man with a million personas, Giovanni seemingly can be anyone except himself and at one point in the story undergoes psychoanalysis. Coming from a family of psychiatrists yourself, you must have some insight into analysis and some rather interesting stories, to boot. Will you talk briefly about growing up among psychoanalysts and how that may have shaped Giovanni as a character and the story as a whole?

My grandfather, Theodore Isaac Rubin, was a very famous psychiatrist in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He appeared regularly on the Phil Donoghue show and wrote many bestselling novels and self-help books, one of which was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, David and Lisa. Largely because of his influence, my father, aunt, and uncle all went on to become shrinks. Suffice it to say, there is no dearth of introspection at our family get-togethers. (Somewhat notoriously, I informed a classmate of mine in the third grade that he was “projecting”; I am still living this down.) And yet I also wanted to show how beneficial therapy can be. I think portrayals of analysis in books and movies are often pretty lazy, framing it as this ridiculous or masturbatory exercise. I wanted to show that there is true empathy in it – a kind of warm detachment – that can really help people.

The Poser is told from Giovanni’s perspective, at a point in his life where he’s looking back at everything that’s befallen him. What compelled you to use first-person confession as the mode for telling the story?

The enjoinder to “show don’t tell” is important for every young writer to hear, and yet so many of my favorite books wholly disregard it. Notes from the Underground, for instance, or Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, the novels of Robertson Davies and Stanley Elkin. Everyone knows novels can’t compete with movies or video games for sheer sensory onslaught, but books, for my money, capture better than any other media the interiority of experience, the “music of someone’s intelligence,” as Richard Ford once put it. My favorite books promise just this kind of intimate—and for that reason, often scandalous—experience. Like, Lolita or Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son. You open those books, and you’re encountering this presence, this personality talking about something it shouldn’t have done in a voice unlike any you’ve ever heard. My favorite books, probably for that reason, feel like a secret, and you feel slightly cheated when you find out someone else read it. You’re like, “Hands off. She told that to me and no one else.”

Thematically, I thought the first-person narrative was necessary for The Poser as it’s about a man struggling to find himself, which he does, in the end, by telling the story. I also liked the tension of having someone act a certain way, as a performer or fraud, while narrating his often discordant internal experience. He says one thing, but thinks another. This is something I think fiction can do particularly well.

Giovanni’s world is noir-ish, vaudevillian, even a bit surreal. The story is set in an imaginary country that somewhat resembles America of the 1950s and 60s. What was your thought process in setting the story in a parallel, fable-like world?  Did you do any research to flesh out its wonderful detail?

I knew I was taking a risk in setting the book in an imaginary place, a parallel America of the 50s and 60s, and yet it felt necessary for the kind of book I was hoping to write. The Poser, as I see it, is about Giovanni’s attempt to become a real person; it felt right that the landscape, too, might strain to be real, flickering between the evoked and the shadowy. I did do research about the corresponding time in America. Stuff about clothes, some slang, etc. I used as models for the noir prose style novels by favorites like Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler.

I can’t seem to escape the surreal. In visual art, it’s always been my favorite: Giacometti’s sculptures, for instance, or the paintings of Paul Klee. I think I’ve always aspired to whatever the prose equivalent of such a way of seeing would be. For me, it is rare that when meeting a person I note what color nail polish she’s wearing or which kind of ankle boot (this can be very embarrassing, mind you, for someone meant to be observant). Encountering a person can be a pretty damn surreal experience, much more like meeting a Giacometti or a Klee. I think the same is true of places. Just walking around and seeing people yammering on their cellphones or driving around in these motorized chrome bubbles—we live in a sci-fi movie! My agent, Jin Auh, once relayed a line the author George Garrett had about Fellini’s movies. He called them “science fiction set in the past.” I loved that. I think that’s what I’m trying to write.

Bestselling author Sam Lipsyte praised you as “a great hope for comic fiction in the 21st century.” Did you set out to write a humorous book? Were there any books or authors—comedic or otherwise—who inspired you while writing The Poser?

Sam Lipsyte has made me laugh so many times, so I was on cloud nine when I found out he enjoyed the book. I certainly hope the novel’s funny. My old teacher Barry Hannah used to say that books should offer “deep entertainment”; the unkillable ham in me can’t seem to let go of the second word. All of my favorite contemporary writers make me laugh: Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, Barry. Even very dark, supposedly depressing, classics are secretly knee-slappers. I’m thinking of writers like Knut Hamsun, Thomas Bernhard, Samuel Beckett, and Herman Melville. I read Paul Auster’s introduction to Hunger, in which Auster talks about how dark and miserable the book is (all of which is true, of course), but I also thought, it’s hilarious! The truly tragic is the funniest stuff there is! The fact that we live on a spinning ball in an endless void, or that we possess a seemingly infinite consciousness but will all die. It’s just so absurd. I think laugher is the sound of someone accepting their powerlessness and through that acceptance briefly somehow transcending it. And it shouldn’t ever be explained. And I now ruined it forever.

Besides working as a novelist, a magician, and a rapper, you also write screenplays. In fact, Times Square, a script you co-wrote with Taylor Materne, was recently optioned by Focus Features. In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference between writing a novel and a script, and do you prefer writing one form over the other?

I’ve found the two to be very different. In film, structure is king, so you really have to work out the entire plot as much as you can before setting off to write. It helps a lot to work with someone else to figure out what needs to happen when.  Of course, you often end up changing nearly everything anyway, but it’s almost more like assembling a watch or engine, some device that has to meet company-mandated specs. Fiction writing, for me, is a much more unwieldy, inefficient, foolhardy, and reliably meaningful experience. That said, I’ve always enjoyed writing dialogue, and the script stuff is a fun opportunity to pen snappy exchanges. In movie writing, you get to put down things like, “NO WAY OUT. The green creature on his heels, he GRABS the duffel bag and – screw it – LEAPS OFF the roof over the sea wall to the CHURNING WATERS of the GULF of MEXICO.”

The Poser is your debut novel. Is there a second in the works? If so, could you talk a bit about it? If not, would you mind divulging what other creative projects you’re currently working on?

There is a lengthy word file in my laptop that I hesitate to call a second novel, but perhaps it will be one day! It is too early to talk about it, but I hope it will be funny.

To win your own copy, please send an email to contest@gmail.com with “WIN POSER” as the subject.

You must include your snail mail address in your email.

All entries must be received by March 31, 2015. Two (2) names will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your book will be sent by the publisher, Viking Press.

One entry per email address. Subscribers to the monthly newsletter earn an extra entry into every contest. Follow this blog to earn another entry into every contest. Winners may win only one time per year (365 days) for contests with prizes of more than one book. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone.

3/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE POSER by Jacob Rubin. Viking (March 17, 2015). ISBN 978-0670016761. 256p.


Win THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah

February 3, 2015

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I loved this book so much that I want one lucky reader to get a free copy! Read on for my review and how you can enter to win.

This was quite a departure for Hannah, who typically writes really good stories about contemporary women’s lives. This time she starts out that way, but quickly goes back in time to 1939 France as the war is getting underway.

Sisters Isabelle and Viann have lost their mother, and their father, damaged from World War I, can’t deal with his loss and his daughters so he sends them away. Isabelle is rebellious and gets kicked out of one boarding school after another, until she’s sent to live with her older sister Viann and her husband. Things don’t work out there and the sisters part ways. But when Viann’s husband goes off to war, eighteen year old Isabelle is sent back to stay with her sister again.

Isabelle wants to be involved in the war effort, but not in a typical-of-the-time way of rolling bandages. When she meets Gäetan, a partisan rebel, she falls in love and wants to go off with him to fight, but he sneaks away, leaving her angry, frustrated and heartbroken. As the Nazis move in to France, the country is divided in two, the Nazi occupied territory, and the Free Zone under Vichy government. The sisters’ small town is taken over by Nazis, and one is billeted in their home.

Isabelle joins the Resistance movement at great personal risk. Her exploits become legendary as eventually she leads downed British and American airmen out of France, walking them across the mountains into Spain and freedom. She becomes known as the Nightingale.

Meanwhile, back at home, Viann’s best friend Rachel is Jewish, and we all know what happens there. She begs Viann to take her baby boy, and as dangerous as it is, Viann acquiesces. Then another Jewish friend is being taken away, and leaves her son as well. Viann knows she can’t keep another Jewish child, so she approaches the Mother Superior at the local convent orphanage, and they take the child. They decide there will be more Jewish children to be saved, and eventually Viann saves several more.

The story moves occasionally back to contemporary times, when one of the sisters is being moved to a nursing home by her son, a doctor, who knows nothing of his mother and her sister’s past – and, in a brilliant stroke on Hannah’s part, we don’t know which sister she is.

This was a completely mesmerizing story, a female side of the war that isn’t often explored. I was totally immersed in their world, and often brought to tears. It is a difficult subject, and the brutality and violence is not whitewashed at all, but is necessary to the story. I have read a lot of Holocaust fiction and this was one of the more interesting, unusual and compelling books on the subject. This strong, well written feminist historical fiction is simply not to be missed. It is sure to make my favorite list for 2015.

To win your own copy, please send an email to contest@gmail.com with “WIN NIGHTINGALE” as the subject.

You must include your snail mail address in your email.

All entries must be received by February 20, 2015. One (1) name will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your book will be sent by the publisher, St. Martins Press.

One entry per email address. Subscribers to the monthly newsletter earn an extra entry into every contest. Follow this blog to earn another entry into every contest. Winners may win only one time per year (365 days) for contests with prizes of more than one book. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone.

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 3, 2015). ISBN 978-0312577223. 448p.


THE BOSTON GIRL by Anita Diamant

January 15, 2015

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Anita Diamant, author of the much beloved The Red Tent (and several other books) hasn’t had a new book in a few years so this was highly anticipated. I am happy to say it was worth the wait.

Touching on her usual themes of Judaism, feminism and history, The Boston Girl is also heartwarming and engaging – I couldn’t put it down.

Diamant utilizes a common plot device; the heroine, Addie Baum, is 85 years old and telling her life story to her granddaughter (with much more detail than my grandmother ever remembered.) This is a poignant family story about the immigrant experience in Boston, Massachusetts. The characters are well drawn, especially Addie and her immediate family, but the secondary characters are more shadowy. Since the story is told in the first person, we can only know what Addie knows.

Addie lived through a severe flu epidemic, the Great Depression, women’s rights and lots more, all brought to life through the lens of the Baum family. I won’t be forgetting this family any time soon.

1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BOSTON GIRL by Anita Diamant. Scribner (December 9, 2014). ISBN 978-1439199350. 336p.


THE APPLE ORCHARD by Susan Wiggs

August 22, 2014

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Bella Vista Chronicles, Book 1

This series is set at the Bella Vista apple orchard in Sonoma County, California, in the small town of Archangel. I read these out of order, starting with book 2, The Beekeeper’s Ball, which I liked so much that I immediately ran out and got this book. They don’t have to be read in order, but probably is better to do so.

This story centers around Tess Delaney, an antiques appraiser working for a prestigious California auction house like Sotheby’s. She grew up in Dublin with a single mom who travelled a great deal, so really her grandmother raised her.  The grandmother had an antiques store and Tess loved being there with her, and learned a great deal that helped her in her career. Her mother told her that her father was a one night stand and she didn’t even know his name.

Tess is on the verge of a big promotion and move to New York when Dominic Rossi enters her life. She originally believes he’s come to her for an appraisal, but is shocked to discover that he’s there to deliver some bad news. Her grandfather, Magnus,  has taken a tumble and is in a coma. The news would be devastating to anyone, but the real shocker is that Tess never knew she even had a grandfather. Then she comes to find out that she also has a half-sister.

Dominic is divorced with two kids and dogs and is the executor of Magnus’s estate, and tells Tess that the two granddaughters are equal heirs. Stunned to learn she stands to inherit an estate, Tess decides she had better go meet her half sister, Isabel, and find out more. Along the way she falls in love with the area, and with Dominic, but the estate is on the verge of bankruptcy. Dominic works for the bank that holds the mortgages, but try as he might, the conglomerate that owns the bank won’t budge – until Tess ferrets out a rare antique that is worth millions.

The backstory here is a complicated family one, with some really interesting flashbacks to World War II in Copenhagen, and the Danish resistance. A very fast read with characters that come alive on the pages, and I truly hope there are more books to follow.

8/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs. Harlequin MIRA; Reprint edition (April 29, 2014). ISBN 978-0778314967. 448p.


THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs

August 20, 2014

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Bella Vista Chronicles

This was the first book I’ve read by Susan Wiggs, and as soon as I realized it was the second book of a series, I went and got the first – this is the sequel to The Apple Orchard . Hopefully, there will be more to come.

This story is set at Bella Vista farm in Sonoma County, California, in the small town of Archangel. Isabel Johanson is a culinary school dropout but a gifted chef, and she is converting the large hacienda where she grew up into a farm-to-table cooking school. She is also busy helping her half sister Tess plan her wedding, which will be held at the recently converted barn on the property.

Bella Vista is home to a small apiary, and Isabel is determined to expand it. She leaves a message for a local beekeeper and is waiting for some help, but her bees have minds of their own and start swarming, looking for a new home. As she tries to capture the swarm, a young man stops, who she assumes to be Jamie, the beekeeper. But he knows even less than she does about bees, and gets stung, triggering a life threatening allergic reaction.

Turns out he is Cormac O’Neill, a famous journalist who is on his way to Bella Vista to work on a book about Isabel’s grandfather, Magnus, who worked with the Danish resistance during World War II. This is a family with a lot of secrets, and having the writer there helps them all come out.

There is obvious chemistry between Cormac and Isabel, but she is hesitant about getting involved. She had a bad experience in culinary school and hasn’t really come to terms with everything that happened, but she is forced to when her ex shows up in town to open a restaurant.

There are a lot of threads to this story, and Wiggs masterly weaves them all together seamlessly, creating an engaging page turner with historical significance – I learned a lot about about Denmark’s role during the Holocaust. Her characters are skillfully brought to life, and the setting becomes another character here. There are a few honey based recipes included as well, and I’m dying to try the Bee Sting Cake, a sort of breakfast sweet bread.

If you liked The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, try The Beekeeper’s Ball – I liked it even more.

8/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs. Harlequin MIRA; First Edition edition (June 24, 2014). ISBN 978-0778314486. 368p.


THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET by Susan Jane Gilman

July 4, 2014

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The Treynovsky family escaped the pogroms in Russia and emmigrated to the lower east side of New York, where Malka grew up to become Lillian Dunkle, the eponymous ice cream queen in Susan Jane Gilman’s charming first novel. Her journey from poverty stricken immigrant to enormously successful ice cream magnate is the quintessential American story.

The streets of New York are not always the safest place for children, teeming with vendors and their push carts. Malka is out one day when the Italian ices man’s horse accidentally crushes her leg in a truly Dickensian moment. Malka’s father takes off, her mother can’t handle it and ends up in a sanitarium. Mr. Dinello feels guilty for crippling the child and takes her in, so this Jewish immigrant girl is raised by an Italian immigrant family. The Italian ices cart grows into an ice cream factory and Malka learns the business until both Mr. and Mrs. Dinello pass away. Their sons form a partnership and a new company, and leave her out in the cold.

Revenge drives Malka, who eventually changes her name to the more American sounding Lillian. She meets Albert Dunkle, a movie star handsome Jewish immigrant with a bad stutter. She tries to help him and they fall in love and marry. Together they start up Dunkle’s Ice Cream. Albert invents a machine that makes soft serve ice cream (think Carvel here, I certainly did) and they become hugely successful. But vindictiveness against the Dinello family fuels Lillian’s fire, and she won’t be happy until they are out of business. Lillian is an unscrupulous businesswoman, and eventually her chickens come home to roost.

This is a family story about the immigrant experience in America, told with a lot of humor and pathos. The characters come alive on these pages and while you may not always like Lillian Dunkle, you can’t help but cheer her on.

7/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET by Susan Jane Gilman. Grand Central Publishing (June 10, 2014). ISBN 978-0446578936. 512p.


ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr

June 30, 2014

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This is the story of a blind French girl and a mathematically inclined German boy in World War II occupied France, and it is one of the most beautifully written and memorable novels that I’ve read in a long time.

I heard about it through Library Reads, it was one of the top ten picks for May. I have found some terrific books through this list of librarian favorites, and I urge you to check it out.

Marie Laure goes blind when she’s six years old. She lives with her father in Paris near the museum where he is a locksmith. He builds her a minature village to scale of their neighborhood and teaches her to navigate on her own. But when the Germans invade Paris, they flee to Saint-Malo to stay with Marie Laure’s uncle, who is a severe agoraphobic. He has a multi-story home on the sea that he shares with a housekeeper/caretaker.

Meanwhile Werner is a 14 year old boy living with his sister in an orphanage in Germany. He is selected to test for engineering school, where he excels. But school under the Third Reich is difficult for Werner. His best friend is a gentle soul and he knows nothing good can come of that in the land of Hitler Youth. Werner is eventually sent out to hunt down illegal transmitters, and that is how he spends the last few years of  his childhood, and the war.

Marie Laure is growing up, and grows very close to both the housekeeper and her uncle. When her father goes missing, they care for her. Eventually Saint-Malo becomes a closed city, and life is very difficult for those still living there. Food, even water, are scarce and freedom becomes a thing of the past.

Werner’s and Marie Laure’s stories ebb and flow, moving back and forth in time and place until inevitably they meet. The war is their backdrop, but the book, surprisingly, is about the kindness people can show one another, even in extraodinarily difficult times.

Reading groups will love this as universal themes of love, war, deception, loyalty, impairments and more will offer great fodder for discussion. Most of the chapters are extremely short, and even though it is a highly descriptive novel, the story moves and is quite gripping, I couldn’t put it down.

All the Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books so far this year.

6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. Scribner; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014). ISBN 978-1476746586. 544p.


THE MARRYING OF CHANI KAUFMAN by Eve Harris

June 25, 2014

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I found this book on the long list for the Mann Booker prize in 2013 and it was published here in the U.S. by Grove Press in April.

I always find books about the Orthodox Jewish community fascinating, it’s a whole different culture from anything I’ve personally experienced. This story is set in London, which adds another layer to the story.

Chani Kaufman is getting married. She’s 19, she’s had three dates with Baruch, who is looking for a wife before he goes off to Jerusalem to rabbinical school. Baruch comes from a very wealthy family, but Chani does not. Her father is a good man, a rabbi himself, but of a small congregation.

Baruch’s mother is none too pleased with her son’s choice. She wants him to find a rich girl to subsidize his studies, and to keep things on an even playing field. But Baruch sticks to his guns and Chani thwarts her future mother-in-law’s plans to end the relationship.

The book is about these families, and also about the Rebbetzin that Chani is studying with. She is a deeply unhappy character, and the book moves between these various characters and  their families, as well as moving back and forth in time, but it is always interesting and easy to follow. Definitely for fans of Naomi Ragen’s books or The Innocents by Francesca Segal.

6/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE MARRYING OF CHANI KAUFMAN by Eve Harris. Grove Press, Black Cat (April 1, 2014). ISBN 978-0802122735. 384p.


THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen

January 28, 2014


Ragen goes back to her roots, Ultra Orthodox Jewish family stories, this time using Rose and Pearl Weiss as her vehicle.

Growing up in the ultra Orthodox Jewish community in 1950’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the sisters Weiss paths diverge as they become young adults. Rose, the elder sister, meets a young French girl at school, and a visit to their home changes her life forever. Rose is headstrong and by chance, finsd her calling in life as a teenager – she wants to become a photographer. Her community, her family, her Rav (rabbi) all reject this choice for her. They forbid her from seeing her new friend and send her off to live with her Bubbee (grandmother) and force her to attend a Satmar school. The Satmar’s are even more religious and don’t really believe in educating women; they consider that they are there to learn to be good Jewish wives and mothers before they are married off.

But Rose is rebellious and in her isolation learns to lie to her family. They decide the only solution is to marry her off at age 17, the usual age girls marry in that community. They even let Rose choose her husband, but at the last minute, she decides she cannot live that life and runs away. She loses touch with her family for the next forty years, which is her biggest regret in life.

The story then moves ahead to Rivkah, Pearl’s daughter, who is in a similar situation to that of the aunt she’s never met, and their worlds collide with some devastating effect. Rivkah finds a box hidden under her mother’s bed with a letter from this exiled aunt, and a newspaper clipping about her photography award.

Rivkah can’t bear to go from being someone’s daughter to someone’s wife, so she runs away, first, to the cousin she’s never known, and then to her aunt. But she learns that there are no easy answers, and that all choices come with consequences and responsibility.

Naomi Ragen grew up in this community and currently lives in Israel, so is accustomed to the lifestyle; she’s lived it. She is intimately familiar with the difficulties, and the blessings, that have kept her people going for so long, and likes exploring all sides in her stories.

The characters are well developed, the culture interesting and I learned a lot. This is a fast read, albeit not an easy one. This is a family I won’t soon forget.

01/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen.  St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 15, 2013). ISBN 978-0312570194. 336p.