09 April 2008

New books with a Jewish genealogy twist

All holidays are family history times, as generations gather from near and far.

Passover is nearly here so we'll have extra time to catch up with our reading during the holiday. Not. That was a joke of sorts. Who has any time to do anything until after the holiday is over? I don't. But put these two books on your list for AP, as we call it, After Pesach.

There's a story here on a Brooklyn bookshop - BookCourt - owned by Henry Zook and Mary Gannett who started the shop in 1981. Today, they run it with their son, Zack Zook, 23.

I'm very curious about the Zook name and just wrote to them. I'll let you know what I find out. In any case, they have a nice website and also send out "These just in" alerts.

The latest list included two new paperback editions that should interest Tracing the Tribe readers because of the characters, backgrounds and historical periods. The books are "Landsman: A Novel," by Peter Charles Melman and "The Ministry of Special Cases," by Nathan Englander.

"Landsman: A Novel," by Peter Charles Melman

... a boisterous, sometimes brutal, and full-hearted tale of a Jewish hoodlum turned Confederate soldier in the Civil War. Elias Abrams is the son of an indentured servant in New Orleans who escapes a robbery gone awry–and the wrath of his old underworld gang, the Cypress Stump Boys–by enlisting in the Third Louisiana Regiment ...

Here's a snippet of an interview with the author:

Melman: ...And yet, there I am a couple years ago, working at a small bookstore in Brooklyn, when I come across a line in Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic claiming that several thousand Jews fought for the South during the Civil War. I was absolutely thunderstruck; the idea of a Jewish Confederacy had simply never occurred to me. As a Jew born in New York but raised in Louisiana, with an undergraduate degree in history and doctorate in English-Creative Writing,...

Learn more about Melman's research at the book's website for resources on the Jews of that time and place, an interactive map and more. Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in New Orleans, have ancestors from there (Ashkenazi or Sephardi) or want to know more about the Civil War.

A Brooklyn resident, Melman has an interesting background: "Born along Long Island’s north shore in 1971, Peter Charles Melman moved with his family to Louisiana at the age of twelve, where he learned to hunt woodcock, skin catfish, dip tobacco, and in so doing, thoroughly offend the more nebbish-y tendencies of his cousins back up in New York." He also used to work at the BookCourt, so this is kind of full-circle for him.

"The Ministry of Special Cases," by Nathan Englander

From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, Nathan Englander’s debut novel "The Ministry of Special Cases" casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina’s Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won’t accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, a terrifying, byzantine refuge of last resort...

There's more on the book at the National Yiddish Book Center, and a bit from the LA Times review:

How to honor the dead, if there's no way to prove they are in fact dead? The question drives Kaddish to distraction and "The Ministry of Special Cases" to its macabre end. As suggested by the current wave of trials in Argentina, this impossible question lingers for thousands of Argentine fathers and mothers and grandparents, most famously the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have gathered in protest every Thursday in Buenos Aires for decades.


1 comment:

  1. I remember the name Zook from a childhood trip to Pennsylvania Dutch country. The sign-maker in Lancaster had the surname Zook.