Recently, the Jewish Book Council announced Rachel Kadish, Michael David Lukas, Dalia Rosenfeld, Mark Sarvas, and Margot Singer as the finalists for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, a prize awarded to an outstanding literary work of Jewish interest.
The annual award, named in honor of businessman and philanthropist Sami Rohr , seeks to promote writings of Jewish interest, and to encourage the examination of Jewish values among “emerging” writers.
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history.
When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”
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The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas
Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary—perhaps magical—Ezra Scroll. The story of Joseph’s family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 depart their hallowed Cambridge halls on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.
The Worlds We Think We Know by Dalia Rosenfeld
Fiercely funny and entirely original, this debut collection of stories takes readers from the United States to Israel-and back-to examine the mystifying reaches of our own minds and hearts. The characters of The Worlds We Think We Know are swept up by forces beyond their control: war, adulthood, family-and their own emotions, as powerful as the sandstorm that gusts through these stories. In Ohio, a college student cruelly enlists the help of the boy who loves her to attract the attention of her own crush. In Israel, a young American woman visits an uncommunicative Holocaust survivor and falls in love with a soldier. And from an unnamed Eastern European country, a woman haunts the husband who left her behind for a new life in New York City. The Worlds We Think We Know is a dazzling debut-clear-eyed, hilarious, and heartbreaking.
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Memento Park by Mark Sarvas
After receiving an unexpected call from the Australian consulate, Matt Santos becomes aware of a painting that he believes was looted from his family in Hungary during the Second World War. To recover the painting, he must repair his strained relationship with his harshly judgmental father, uncover his family history, and restore his connection to his own Judaism. Along the way to illuminating the mysteries of his past, Matt is torn between his doting girlfriend, Tracy, and his alluring attorney, Rachel, with whom he travels to Budapest to unearth the truth about the painting and, in turn, his family.
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Underground Fugue by Margot Singer
Esther, an American art conservator, has fled New York for London—partly to escape her failing marriage, partly to tend to her dying mother. On her first night there, she spots a young man returning home very late, wet and muddy, to the house next door. Their eyes connect and he disappears inside.
This first encounter sparks Esther’s curiosity about her new neighbors: Amir, the moody college student she caught sneaking in, and, more intruiguing still, Amir’s father, Javad—a neuroscientist from Iran.
Throughout the spring, a tentative friendship blossoms, but when terrorists attack London’s tube and bus lines in July, Esther finds her relationship with Javad strained by her gnawing suspicions about Amir . . . suspicions that will ultimately upend the possibilities for the future, and reveal the deep stamp of the past.