The Association of Jewish Libraries Jewish Fiction Award has named The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land by Omer Friedlander the winner of the 2023 Jewish Fiction Award. The Award honors books grappling with Jewish themes, including Judaism, Jewish history and culture, Jewish identity, etc.
Two other honor books have been recognized, Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum and Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott.
The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land by Omer Friedlander
The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land announces the arrival of a natural-born storyteller of immense talent. Warm, poignant, delightfully whimsical, Omer Friedlander’s gorgeously immersive and imaginative stories take you to the narrow limestone alleyways of Jerusalem, the desolate beauty of the Negev Desert, and the sprawling orange groves of Jaffa, with characters that spring to vivid life. A divorced con artist and his daughter sell empty bottles of “holy air” to credulous tourists; a Lebanese Scheherazade enchants three young soldiers in a bombed-out Beirut radio station; a boy daringly “rooftops” at night, climbing steel cranes in scuffed sneakers even as he reimagines the bravery of a Polish-Jewish dancer during the Holocaust; an Israeli volunteer at a West Bank checkpoint mourns the death of her son, a soldier killed in Gaza.
These stories render the intimate lives of people striving for connection. They are fairy tales turned on their head by the stakes of real life, where moments of fragile intimacy mix with comedy and notes of the absurd. Told in prose of astonishing vividness that also demonstrates remarkable control and restraint, they have a universal appeal to the heart.
Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum
In 1986, renowned nuclear scientist, Anna Berkova, is sleeping in her bed in the Soviet Union when Chernobyl’s reactor melts down. It’s the exact moment she tears through time—and it’s an accident. When she opens her eyes, she’s landed in 1992 only to discover Molly, her estranged daughter, shot in the chest. Molly, with her dying breath, begs Anna to go back in time and stop the disaster, to save Molly’s daughter Raisa, and put their family’s future on a better path.
In ‘60s Philadelphia, Molly is coming of age as an adopted refusenik. Her family is full of secrets and a past they won’t share. She finds solace in comic books, drawing her own series, Atomic Anna, and she’s determined to make it as an artist. When she meets the volatile, charismatic Viktor, their romance sets her life on a very different course.
In the ‘80s, Raisa, is a lonely teen and math prodigy, until a quiet, handsome boy moves in across the street and an odd old woman shows up claiming to be her biological grandmother. As Raisa finds new issues of Atomic Anna in unexpected places, she notices each comic challenges her to solve equations leading to one impossible conclusion: time travel. And she finally understands what she has to do.
Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott
The Yaga siblings–Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist–have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited–only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs.
Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia–but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide–erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.