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Treasure maps to Jewish lives

Treasure maps to Jewish lives

By Betsy Gomberg for JUF News

The two intertwining stories in this year's One Book | One Community selection — The Imperial Wife by Irina Reyn — pivot around a centuries’ old Russian artifact. The object in this case is rare: a jewel-encrusted medallion rumored to have been owned by Catherine the Great. But it is more than its rarity that makes it valuable. The meanings ascribed to the object’s provenance bring to light explorations of power, relationships, and personal journeys.

Objects both ordinary and extraordinary feature in a number of worthy reads for Jewish Book Month. As in The Imperial Wife, the objects in these books are treasure maps by which readers can discover hidden riches of Jewish history and Jewish lives.

Everything is Illuminated
In Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel, a young man (also named Jonathan Safran Foer) sets out with a yellowing photograph in hand on a quixotic journey to find the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. A film adapted from the novel starred Elijah Wood.

In an Antique Land
Weaving together past and present across two continents, renowned novelist Amitov Gosh reconstructs the history of a prosperous 12th-century Jewish merchant, Abraham Ben Yiju, using documents from the Cairo Geniza.

People of the Book
This novel by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Geraldine Brooks was inspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest surviving Jewish illuminated texts. With clues as small as salt crystals, the book traces this rare manuscript back through the centuries, introducing people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it.

Jessamyn Hope’s raved-about first novel begins when Adam is charged with reconciling a past crime. He must bring a medieval brooch to a woman his grandfather loved on a kibbutz, decades earlier. But first, he has to track this mystery woman down — a task that proves more difficult than expected.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
When he inherits a collection of tiny Japanese sculptures, renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal seeks to find out where they came from and how they survived. In doing so, he uncovers the rise and fall of an incredible 19th-century Jewish banking dynasty.

The Lady in Gold
Washington Post writer Anne-Marie O'Connor reconstructs the lost world of high-society Jewish Vienna, where Gustav Klimt created a painting of heiress and art patron Adele Bloch-Bauer. The book follows the painting’s mysterious path, from its creation, through its theft by the Nazis, to the decade-long court battle that had profound ramifications throughout the art world. A film adapted from the book starred Helen Mirren.

The Muralist
Using both historical and fictional characters, B.A. Shapiro traces the life and mysterious disappearance of a young Jewish artist on the eve of World War II. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock make appearances, as does the artist’s great-niece, who works at Christie’s in the present day.

The World to Come
A former child prodigy steals a million-dollar Chagall, convinced it once hung in his parents' living room. From there, this ambitious novel by Dara Horn takes readers to an orphanage in Soviet Russia, a middle school in suburban New Jersey, and the jungles of Vietnam.

Thursday, October 13, 2016