I find I have read three Jewish themed books this month: The Girl from Berlin, The Puttermesser Papers and Here I Am. All three were rich, satisfying reads. Co-incidentally, the memoir was written by a Jewish woman, who introduced the Hanukkah festival to a small Scottish town; but the Jewish aspect was not the main theme of the memoir. I mention it in passing. In fact, it was a great reading month all round.


Yet again, I find myself reading a WWII novel : The Girl from Berlin. It charts the early life of brilliant young violinist Ada Baumgarten, starting in the early 1030s and the slow build up to the declaration of war. The persecution of the Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe is described in all its madness and horror. Revenge is a dish best served cold , is one of the themes in the story. The full story of Ada’s life plays out in the early 2000s where the evils of the past manifest in the present.


It’s a well written, well researched Historical Fiction, but this said, I found myself wearying of the slow pace and the convoluted unfolding of the Italian judicial system. Midway I was debating whether to abandon the book, but I persevered to the end, and I’m glad I did.


As usual, I’m catching up with last year’ s excitement: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry. The novel has been likened to Dickens, in that it has social problems as one of its themes, but the cast of characters was much smaller. What I really enjoyed was the descriptions of the countryside, the marshes, the seasons. Perry writes beautifully.


After numerous failures with local author Imraan Coovadia’s novels, I finally hit the pot at the end of the reading rainbow, with his SF Novel A Spy in Time. I’m pretty sure I didn’t always comprehend the complicated plot, but I grasped enough to continue reading, and enjoy the story about the potential end of the entire planet. There were passages of wonderful descriptive writing, particularly inthe Brazil chapters and the final chapter. One theme was Man and Machines, who mastered who, in the final analysis? A good question in these days of burgeoning AI.


The Girl from Berlin – Ronald H Balson. Historical fiction. 1930s & 40s Berlin, pre-war and post war, culminating in Italy in the 2000s. Music, the Nazis, an inheritance. Recommended.
Puttermesser Papers – Cynthia Ozick . Ruth P conjures up a golem in her New York apartment – and this is just for openers! A fantastical satire. Very different!
Here I am – Johnathan Safan Foer – my doorstopper book for July; a great read. Reviewed on this blog.
The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry. A Victorian novel, which lived up to its hype. I loved it.

Death Cup -Irna van Zyl. Local murder mystery based in Hermanus: food, chefs, families, sex, bodies, rivalry, cops and cooks – a great read. Recommended.
A Spy in Time – Imraan Coovadia. SF novel, time-travel, an intricate plot. Very different and very readable. Recommended

WINTER COMFORT RE-READS: Two Beatrix Potter books – The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and the Tale of Mr Tod. Charming and beautifully illustrated.


Three Things you need to know about Rockets – Jessica A Fox. A Memoir. Visiting American loses her heart to books, Wigtown and Scotland. More of a love story than anything else, both to Scotland and a new man. In my view, the title could do with a re-write. All in all, an enjoyable read.


HERE I AM – Johnathan Safan Foer

This is Foer’s third novel, and here he is indeed, in all his Jewish glory. He’s a Jewish writer who chronicles the trials and tribulations of his people with verve, style and boldness. Take the opening paragraph of his huge novel. Sentence two roars along for 19 lines, and chronicles the life of Isaac, ageing great-grandfather of the Bloch family, from birth, through his hard, tumultuous life through to his current status in America. So the reader is instantly immersed into the history and future fortunes of the Bloch family.

Parents Jacob and Julia live with their three sons: Sam on the brink of his Bar Mitzvah and troubled; Max with his quirky view of the world; and Benjy, he of the infinite number of questions concerning his ability to interpret the world. Sam’s bad behavior at school widens the already cracked stability of his parents’ marriage, and the fractures grow as the novel progresses The last member of the family is their incontinent dog Argus, another source of friction between the adults. Julia didn’t want him but nobly deals with Argus and the mess.

Jacob, meanwhile, has also transgressed, in an almost mirror image of Sam’s misdemeanor, and the fallout from this lays bare the couple’s inherent unhappiness.

There are significant secondary characters, notably Jacob’s visiting Israeli cousin Tamir, who’s hairy, large, and forthright. Tamir forces Jacob to confront his role as a Jew, which is a major theme in the novel. Then there’s Irv, Jacob’s father who says exactly what he likes, and denies Jacob the paternal affection and approbation he craves.

The story is propelled by long passages of dialogue, but also offers concentrated short chapters of impassioned polemic on Israel, the earthquake and the growing conflict leading to yet more war. All of which factors impinge into the Bloch’s family life.
Foer is very good at detailing the daily minutiae and rituals of American Jewish family life. Some of the passages were oh so familiar to me, regardless of geographical and cultural differences; others were not. And I was exposed to more information than I would have chosen on the topic of teen boys’ masturbation; however, those pages were contextual.
Foer gives us birth, life and death in the context of one Jewish family. Life in all its gritty glory, with all its complexity and challenges.

I was swept along by the story, engaged with the family Bloch. If you enjoy detailed family stories then you will probably enjoy the book. As a postscript I can say that I now understand the snide cracks about Jewish mothers. And I’m glad I didn’t have one!