NJ Jewish News: Books in brief - Miami blues, Israeli dreamers

by NJJN Staff, May 27, 2015

A Florida fantasia "There is always an extra twist of weirdness at the end of the Florida story,” the crime novelist Carl Hiaasen once said. That Florida is on vivid display in How Sweet it Is! (Mandel Vilar Press), Thane Rosenbaum’s new novel set in Miami Beach in 1972. This is Miami Beach at the end of its heyday as a fun-in-the-sun resort and Jewish mecca, and before its rediscovery as an Art Deco playground for the rich and buff. Holocaust survivors, Cuban refugees, hasidic Jews, and transplanted northerners share the steamy streets, where Jackie Gleason is ending his run as the city’s unofficial ambassador, Isaac Bashevis Singer is holding court at his favorite cafeteria, and gangster Meyer Lansky is back home after an aborted attempt to find sanctuary in Israel.

All three real-life celebrities appear as supporting characters in the novel, which centers on the survivors Sophie and Jacob Posner and their 12-year-old son Adam. Sophie is a force of nature who becomes Lansky’s consigliere; Jacob is a ghost who wanders the coastal city draped in tennis whites and a caul of grim memories. Adam is a baseball and track star who can’t run away fast enough from his haunted parents.

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Jewish Journal Los Angeles: ‘How Sweet It Is!’ is a gangster’s paradise

by Jonathan Kirsch, May 27, 2015 | 10:44 am

The first voice you hear in the latest novel by Thane Rosenbaum, “How Sweet It Is!” (Mandel Vilar Press), belongs to the Great One himself, Jackie Gleason.

“Miami Beach is magical, but it is the magic of the dark arts,” Gleason is made to say. “Black magic masquerading as enchantment.” A Brooklyn boy who ended up as the self-styled “King of Miami Beach,” a fictional version of Gleason sets the scene of South Florida in 1972 — the glamorous hotels and nightclubs and eateries, the beaches and the blue sky, but also the “fleabags, flophouses, and eyesores,” the gambling dens and the strip joints: “For all the talk of radiant light, darkness shares equal billing in this variety show of a tropical paradise.”

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Foreword Reviews: Searching for Wallenberg

– Searching for Wallenberg –
Reviewed by Jeff Fleische, May 27, 2015

The fate of Raoul Wallenberg has remained a mystery for seventy years, and Alan Lelchuk’s novel Searching for Wallenberg uses a fictional investigation to explore the real question of what happened. This is a thoughtful and compelling novel that blends mystery, history, and speculative elements.

The story’s protagonist is Manny Gellerman, a university professor with a longtime interest in the life and disappearance of the Swedish diplomat. During World War II, Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary by issuing protective passports and helping the captives escape, but he himself was captured by the Soviets during their counteroffensive and is presumed to have died in a Soviet prison. One of Gellerman’s students is working on a thesis about Wallenberg’s disappearance. She interviews a woman who claims to be his daughter and has information that might explain what happened.

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Jewish Book Council Review: Searching For Wallenberg - Alan Lelchuk

Review by Donald Weber

In his absorbing new novel Searching for Wallenberg, Alan Lelchuk reflects on the tragedies of modern Jewish history and their present-day legacies through the empathic imagination of Manny Gellerman, a sixty-something professor of History at a New England liberal arts college. Richly drawn and the moral center of the novel, Manny is alert to the foolishness that often characterizes academic life—above all the comedy of aging professors lusting after celebrity (a continuing theme in Lelchuk’s work). Manny, by contrast, cares deeply about his students, and worries about the deformed ethical-political condition of contemporary America in 2006, especially the nation’s ongoing, disastrous war in Iraq. Spry and energetic, “with a glint in his eyes, still swinging” at the plate—Manny often thinks about his boyhood hero, Jackie Robinson, while growing up in his native Brooklyn—Manny feels, nevertheless, somewhat aimless as he approaches the end of his career; he seeks a project to be passionate about, something to awaken, indeed to claim his profoundly moral sensibility.

In Lelchuk’s invention, the awakening takes the form of Manny’s quest to find the “truth” behind the story—and above all the ultimate fate—of Raoul Wallenberg, the legendary Swedish diplomat and “righteous gentile” who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews in 1944-1945. Wallenberg, as is well known, distributed Swedish schutzpassn (passports) to Jews, thus making them citizens of neutral Sweden, and immediately liberating them from the fate of the camps, in some instances even handing out schutzpassn to Jews already in trains bound for inevitable death.

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