Book Reviews

Casting Lots – Susan Silverman

Casting Lots is the story of family. How it is created, what it means to belong, and perhaps most vividly, how it changes with time. In this memoir, author Susan Silverman describes her journey as a mother of internationally adopted children. With exceptional emotional clarity, Silverman writes about how the process of adopting her sons from Ethiopia affected her as an individual, and in all her family roles of wife, birth mother, sister, and daughter. Her attention to these webs of relationships added a deep sense of humility and vulnerability to her writing. Silverman’s willingness to share in such authenticity provided solid grounding to an emotionally powerful book. I do not think it is possible to read this book without reflecting on the roles we play in our own families. Readers should be prepared to make personal discoveries both for the better and the worse.

I received this book as a “Parent’s Choice” through the PJ Library program. As I read it, I especially appreciated the underlying themes of inclusion and the primacy of love in establishing Jewish families. Silverman’s story indirectly, but powerfully, challenges the out-dated and limiting community expectations of nuclear families in Jewish life. In Silverman’s book, our families are built with love, compassion, friendship, and kindness. Understanding does not always come easily. Racism, sexism, and fear are present and painful enemies. The world in which we want to raise our children is not the one we navigate every day.

I suspect that more experienced parents will find more depth in Casting Lots than those just starting out on their parenting journeys. The book has the potential to be a remarkable resource for extended families, provoking meaningful conversations among parents, siblings, and older children. Silverman provides practical and supportive insights into the systems of international adoption, and those considering such a step will likely find it encouraging. And all readers will remember that each of us is capable of feeling and sharing so much more love than we ever thought possible.

Book Reviews, Literature

The Weight of Ink – Rachel Kadish

The Weight of InkFeaturing rich history, beautiful prose, magnetic characters, gender politics, and healthy doses of heresy and mystery, Rachel Kadish’s latest novel The Weight of Ink has it all. Even at 550 pages long the book can barely contain all that Kadish has packed into it, and yet the result is a mesmerizing work of fiction. Personally, it was love at first sight of the cover.

Every aspect of Kadish’s book is artistically nuanced. She maintains an impressive linguistic and cultural authenticity as her narrative moves from England in the 1660s, to the early years of the State of Israel, and 21st century British academia. The most remarkable example of this is the letters that her characters write to one another in the 1660s, and the contrast with the academic papers and emails they write in the 2000s. Kadish nimbly maneuvers between writing styles, adding depth to her storytelling, making the book a pleasure to read.

Although the book is long and complex, it is never boring. To Kadish’s great credit, she portrays each of the characters and settings clearly enough that they remain distinct and easy to follow. The real challenge of this book is following the theological and philosophical arguments that flow across borders and centuries. A minimal background in the history of the English, Dutch, and Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities is tremendously helpful. A minimal background in the theology of Baruch Spinoza, Shabbetai Tzvi’s messianic movement, and academic libraries also makes it easier for the reader. Kadish explains these elements with clarity and concision, and the precision of her historical research is worth celebrating all on its own. The amount of detail in this book makes it necessary to read it very slowly, have the luxury of reading it in several very long stretches, or simply the willingness to read it more than once. I’m happy to be in the last category, although the next time I’m on a long flight this is the book I’m bringing.

On a final note, The Weight of Ink provided the most dynamic conversation of any of my book club’s selections in at least 5 years.  There is so much to talk about in this book, readers would be well advised to make sure they have someone with whom to have these conversations. Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink is simply a book you will want to read and share with everyone you know.

 

Book Reviews

The Book of Love and Hate – Lauren Sanders

Lauren Sanders - Book of Love and HateThe title of Lauren Sanders’ novel, The Book of Love and Hate, nearly perfectly describes my feelings about reading it. Sanders’ writing is razor-sharp, a stark contrast to the intentionally fuzzy edges of her characters and setting. As Sanders flings her readers along on the protagonist’s jumbled attempt to find the truth about her father, we understand just how illusory the truth can be.

In The Book of Love and Hate, nothing is exactly as it seems. Sanders’ characters are complex, muddled by dysfunctional family relationships, substance abuse, Olympic ambition, wealth, and politics. She covers them with a layer of grittiness that matches the roughness in her depiction of Israel. Sanders uses Jennifer Baron as the constant narrator, but as she goes back and forth between Jennifer’s present and past. The challenge of tracking the time actively works against the consistency of Jennifer’s voice.

Sanders shows that she is a master in drawing in her readers, and relentlessly pushes the boundaries of suspense and credulity. Reading The Book of Love and Hate was alternately deeply frustrating and shockingly refreshing. I wanted to read it on the beach in Tel Aviv, soothed by the waves while surrounded by the crackling vitality of the city. Reading it in my home by myself was far too quiet. And reading it was hard work. Sanders’

book rewards readers who appreciate the craftsmanship of writing, rather than the simplicity of a straightforward plot. If you are prepared to accept this balance of investing your intellectual curiosity while surrendering control to the author’s whims, The Books of Love and Hate is a knock out. Less adventurous readers should consider themselves forewarned.

Books and Blintzes received a copy of this book from LibraryThing.com in order to compose this review. This review only reflects the views of its author.