I recently received a few books in the mail from publishers wanting to get
free publicity on Jewlicious my feedback. Below are reviews of the first two books I’ve read.
Schlepping Through the Alps : My Search for Austria’s Jewish Past with Its Last Wandering Shepherd by Sam Apple
Sam, a typically neurotic Jewish writer, meets Hans, a Yiddish singing Austrian shepherd while the latter is in New York singing his songs. Hans’ father is a Jew and his mother is a gentile Austrian who was tortured by the Gestapo for being a communist. A year after their initial meeting, Sam heads off to Austria in order to follow Hans and his sheep around as an apprentice shepherd and chronicle his life. This book is both funny and heavy at the same time. The heaviness comes from the obvious themes dealing with the holocaust and prejudice – hello! A book that discusses both sheep and dead Jews, hello! Obvious much? But the book is funny too – Hans is definitely eccentric, Sam writes poetically about being knee deep in sheep poop, and several other whimsical passage make for a riveting and original work.
Sam also spends his time in post-Jorg Haider Austria looking for remnants of the deeply ingrained anti-semitism that allowed the Austrian people to greet Hitler like a returning hero. Indeed, the Holocaust seems constantly present in this book. Schlepping is like a combination of Jonathan Safran Foer and Tom Robbins and contains multiple divergent dualities: introspective and instructive as well as deeply tragic yet often whimsical.
I totally enjoyed reading and thinking about Schlepping. The theme that stuck with me, the one that seems to be a common element of many Judaically themed works of fiction, is that of memory. Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything Is Illuminated talked about memory being the 6th sense of all Jews and he may have something there:
Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing…memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins. It is only by tracing the pinprick back to the other prinpricks – when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it, when his grandfather’s fingers fell asleep from strokiung his great-grandfather’s damp forehead, when Abhaham tested the knife point to be sure Issac would feel no pain – that the Jew was able to know why it hurts.
Think about what this means and get back to me!
The J. A. P. Chronicles by Isabel Rose
In this debut novel by Isabel Rose we meet seven well-to-do Jewish New York women who were once bunk mates at a prestigious summer camp. The seven get together at a camp reunion 10 years later. We meet Ali, a documentary filmmaker who was a tortured outsider, but attends the reunion in order to film a documentary about the camp. Ali is a hipster who lives on the Lower East Side with her Irish Catholic boyfriend. She has purple hair, a ring on her rhinoplasty-free nose and is pregnant. At the reunion, Ali decides to do a documentary featuring her bunkmates in order to find out what her former tormentors have been up to.
We then meet Dafna who seems to be on a perennial quest to get married, while her best friend Beth is planning the perfect wedding to a man she pretty much dislikes. Arden is a semi-homeless drugged up floozie who is in and out of rehab and strange men’s beds. Jessica is an actress who seems stuck doing summer stock. Laura is a powerful talent agent secretly fighting breast cancer and Wendy, who seems to have an idyllic life in a wealthy suburb with her perfect husband and lovely children is actually (gasp!) having an affair with her former female head counsellor.
Sprinkled throughout the book are references to shopping, fashion, popular mood altering prescription drugs, lots of sex with sheygetzes, derisive references to shiksas, sexual abuser Rabbis, gang rape, girl campers gone wild etc., in other words ideal summer chick reading material. The popular girls chronicled here get their comeuppance one way or another and all the sympathetic characters live happily ever after.
To whatever extent this book is an accurate description of the lives of next generation of wealthy, influential Upper East Side Jews, well… what can I say, we’re in trouble. But if this sort of thing interests you and you want to relish a sometimes funny story of vengeance set in New York, get it. Truly an ideal summer book.