So what was my second nice surprise on May 17? The mail included the May/June issue of Hadassah Magazine. I quickly turned to the BOOKS section, where on page 51 I was thrilled to see my 1/3 page ad for The Choice. Not only was it well place opposite their “Top Ten Jewish Best Sellers” list, but every word was legible, as opposed to other ads with text too small to read. Unfortunately I couldn’t link to the page, so I’ll just provide a jpeg of the ad.
Yesterday was pub date for my latest book, "The Choice," and I got two very nice surprises. First, the Jewish Book Council posted an excellent review. What made it excellent? 1. It is just over 500 words, long enough to describe the plot and characters in sufficient detail that the potential reader gets more than a taste of why the reviewer recommends the book. 2. It has several quote-worthy sentences we can use for promotion. 3. The reviewer completely gets, and explains, what I was trying to accomplish—to demonstrate and critique the unequal and inferior of position of women in traditional Jewish texts—yet still provide an appealing romance.
I’ll share the second surprise in my next post, and to further conserve space, I leave you with only the review’s final paragraph. But I do hope you’ll be intrigued enough to click on the link and read the whole review. After which you’ll want to read the entire novel.
“Hannah and Nathan’s faith and love are tested as they encounter setbacks, misunderstandings, and strong conflicts. They find their way through these life clashes and decisions with a sense of justice and respect. The Choice is a thought-provoking, informative, important, and engaging read.”
The Body on the Lido Deck by Jane Bennett Munro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I liked Jane Bennett Munro's previous murder mystery sufficiently that I decided to read the next book in the series, The Body on the Lido Deck: A Toni Day Mystery. I've been on enough ocean cruises to appreciate the Caribbean setting, and as in the prequel, the action starts up immediately. Like before, I was fine with all the medical terminology, but I also wasn't so fine with the large cast of characters. New victims and suspects kept appearing, nearly all of whom had relationships with each other that weren't revealed until later. While the fast paced plot eventually made sense, I sometimes lost track of who did what to whom and had to reread earlier chapters to jog my memory. I advise readers to take careful notes.
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As May 17 pub date for "The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud" gets closer, reviews, interviews and blog posts (from other people) start coming online. Here’s an excerpt from the review from Historical Novels Reviews: “The Choice is a compelling book about the role of women in a patriarchal society. The author pays homage to Chaim Potok’s characters in a respectful way…it should greatly appeal to those readers interested in scholarly Talmudic debates. But at its heart, it is a love story, and a unique one at that.” The complete review is below.
“Inspired by characters and situations Chaim Potok’s classic novel, The Chosen, Talmudic scholar and author Maggie Anton has written a love story steeped in faith, tradition, and the Talmud. In 1950s Brooklyn, Hannah Eisen is a journalist at a Jewish newspaper. She interviews a Talmud professor, Nathan Mandel, about his life and his controversial classroom methods. Hannah is very intelligent and has the mind and the drive to learn Talmud, but as a woman, she is prohibited from learning. However, she somehow convinces Nathan to meet with her in secret to teach her Talmud—and the two fall in love.
Meanwhile, Nathan is grappling with family issues of his own, as his father never revealed to him the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death, leaving him with a gaping hole concerning his own childhood history. A concurrent storyline is the tenuous relationship between Nathan’s best friend Benny and his wife, Sharon, whose marital troubles stem from Sharon not being accepted by the rest of the women in their tightly knit Orthodox Jewish community. The progression of Hannah and Nathan’s relationship, as well as Hannah’s investigative journalism projects, add a dimension to the book apart from the Talmudic discussions the characters engage in frequently.
"The Choice" is a compelling book about the role of women in a patriarchal society. The author pays homage to Chaim Potok’s characters in a respectful way. Though the storyline is interesting and nuanced, it’s long and wordy at times. However, it should greatly appeal to those readers interested in scholarly Talmudic debates. But at its heart, it is a love story, and a unique one at that.”
In advance of next weeks' May 17 pub date for "The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud," here's a Books Q&A from Deborah Kalb's blog . One of her questions asked what surprising things I learned from my research. Another asked what I was working on next.
I decided to read Death by Autopsy: A Toni Day Mystery because the protagonist Dr. Toni and I are both hospital laboratory professionals, the former having worked her way through med school as a medical technologist. I too was a med tech, or clinical laboratory scientist as it's called now; in my case for almost 40 years. So I was curious to read a murder mystery written by such an author. There's a lot of medical terminology, which I appreciated, but other readers may not. This is a fast-paced novel. So much is happening and so quickly that I'm sure I missed some important information. I wish this novel had a cast-of-characters; 29 different characters appeared In the first 100 pages. So of course I couldn't always remember who was who and what each had done that might be important. By page 200, Dr. Toni was definitely on the right track. Persons unknown are stalking her, slashing her tires, poisoning her drinks, and putting a bomb in her car, but she'd gotten her teeth into this murder mystery and wouldn't let go. Here’s a hint: follow the money and you'll find out who done it.
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Last month I wrote a 300-words about women and mitzvot for the Limmud North America 49-steps series of essays for observing the Counting of the Omer. You can read it by clicking in the link, or by continuing with this post.
The Omer is an appropriate time to think about mitzvot that specifically affect women – by obligating women to fulfill them, and also by exempting or forbidding women from fulfilling them – because three of them occur during the days between Passover and Shavuot. The Mishnah exempts women from time-bound, positive mitzvot (“TBPM”), those actions at a certain time, yet the Torah makes no such differentiation – it provides only two categories: positive (“do this”) commandments and negative (“do not do this”) commandments. The Talmud suggests that the distinct category of TBPM exists to exempt women from being obligated in their performance. Yet despite this exemption, one Talmudic sage obligates women to fulfill all commandments related to Passover – eating matzah and maror; drinking four cups of wine; reclining – because women were involved in the miracle of the holiday. Rashi’s grandson Rabbenu Tam rules that women may fulfill any TBPM, providing they say a blessing for doing so.
Even so, some rabbis today still disagree on whether women are obligated to count the Omer, and whether they should say the blessing for doing so or not, even though this is the easiest TBPM to fulfill. Women were present at Sinai to receive Torah, and Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children (“benaichem”).” But Talmudic rabbis ruled that women were forbidden from study Torah or Talmud and men were forbidden to teach them, based on the literal translation of “benaichem” as “sons,” rather than the more common, “children.”
Why this restriction? The heroine of my upcoming novel The Choice explains it thus: “It was a matter of power. If women didn’t know how halacha was formulated and established, then they couldn’t challenge it or change it.”
I'm so excited. The new issue of Lilith Magazine contains an interview with me. Here's the introduction: When journalist Hannah Eisen meets Rabbi Nathan Mandel, sparks begin to fly. Their mutual attraction grows when Hannah convinces Nathan to teach her Torah (Talmud actually)—something expressly forbidden by Jewish law. Set in 1955, in Brooklyn, NY, "The Choice" describes the many ways in which women have been given a subordinate role in Judaism. Author Maggie Anton—who also wrote the acclaimed trilogy Rashi’s Daughters—talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how her novel both exposes and dismantles these inequities in an effort to set the record straight.
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I agree completely with Amy's 3-star review. So completely that I could easily cut and paste it here. The Matzah Ball isn't going to win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for Literature, but as its punny title suggests, it's a fun and entertaining novel. I read it in one day over Shabbat. The plot is classic girl and boy meet, hate each other but are secretly attracted, meet again with more attraction but all sorts of misunderstandings, and ultimately they get together for a happy ending. I, and other readers familiar with the romance genre, will know by page 15 how it ends. I'm sure it is no coincidence that the couple are named Rachel and Jacob, the Bible/Torah true loves who had to undergo all sorts of trials and tribulations.
I could dismiss this novel as fluffy and light (like a good matzah ball), but there's some serious stuff underneath that takes the plot to a higher level. Rachel, the heroine, suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which she tries to hide from everyone except her family and best friend. Of course this creates difficulties for her professional, and romantic, lives. Our hero Jacob has his own tsuris: his now-deceased mother had MS, which is why his father abandoned them. There is also lots of good Jewish content. So take it for what it is and enjoy the ride.
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Childhood in Shtetl by Abraham P. Gannes
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
If it weren't for the fact that this small book was written and self-published by a distant cousin of mine, I'd have given it less than a 3.5-star review. Lots more tell than show, it is still invaluable to me as the story of Winograd, the shtetl my father's family came from, and what caused them to leave during the 1918-1921 pogroms. Non-family members, in the unlikely event that they do read this book, should skip the first chapter; it only deals with which relatives are related to whom and how.
The second chapter describes Winograd and what the residents, male and female, do there and how they relate to the non-Jewish residents. It has a nice, hand-drawn, map of the village, which would be more useful if one could read the tiny writing. Chapter Three, on education of Jewish boys is, as expected, totally a religious pursuit. First they learn to read Hebrew and Yiddish, then Bible/Torah study. A capable student began learning Talmud, the study of which ideally lasted his whole life. A few girls are taught enough Yiddish to read and write letters, in particular Tsena Urena, a Yiddish book whose structure parallels the weekly Torah portion."
Halfway through the book, I got to the pogrom chapters. Chapter Four is a general history of the Ukraine pogroms that describes the various groups involved [Bolshevik Reds, Czarist Whites, Ukrainian nationalists, and angry presents—none of whom liked or trusted the Jews], explains why they started fighting each other, and gives general details of how the shtetl and their inhabitants were caught in the middle. Chapter Five goes into horrific detail about attacks on Winograd, many of which involved capturing Jewish merchants or other travelers and, after beating them, holding them for ransom. Sadly, when family and friends arrived to deliver the ransom, they often found the travelers already murdered, after which they themselves were killed and the ransom stolen along with their merchandise and horses.
After the horrific pogroms Chapter Six comes as relief when the survivors receive letters from relatives abroad in late 1919. These direct them to board ships in Bucharest and emigrate, either to America or Palestine. Danger isn't quite over, since fleeing Ukraine in the winter involves crossing ice-covered rivers and avoiding officials who have to be bribed to leave them in peace. Not all make it to Romania unscathed, but the majority of my family do.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants an up-close-and-personal look at Jews fleeing the 1917-1921 Pogroms in Ukraine, but especially for descendants of these emigrants.
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Friday, after two weeks of struggling with Goodreads and Amazon, I got the following email: “Congratulations! Your giveaway for The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and The Talmud has been approved. It will start at 12:00am PT on Monday, April 25 and finish at 11:59pm PT on Monday, May 16 (the day before pub date). You're giving away 100 copies (of the e-version) to Goodreads members in U.S. When your giveaway ends, we'll automatically deliver books to winners' Kindle libraries and email you with a summary of your giveaway's performance.”
I was so thrilled to finally begin my Goodreads Giveaway that it wasn’t until today that I realized that I wasn’t sure if 12:00 am on Monday means midnight on Sunday or midnight on Monday. I did know it wasn’t noon. It took a google search to be convinced that The Choice’s giveaway will actually begin tonight, Sunday. Here’s the Giveaway link to register. Of course you have to be a member of Goodreads first, but it's easy and free.
I read a few other guidebooks before our five day stay in Amsterdam at the beginning of April, and this was the most useful. It had the hotel we stayed in, The Hoxton, among its recommendations, which gave it an icon on the Amsterdam maps. The restaurant guide wasn't particularly helpful, as Lonely Planet travel guides seemed to be designed for students and other more budget-minded travelers. We relied more on our hotel staff's advice. Unfortunately, the paperback was too heavy to shlep around and the newer kindle edition we downloaded wasn't as good.
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