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8 Great Fall Reads

What's on our shelves this season. 

By Sandee Brawarsky
Fall 2014

An unusual and outstanding memoir, Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found by Rebecca Alexander (Gotham Books) is the story of a young woman who is slowly losing her sight and hearing because of Usher Syndrome III, a rare disorder. Now 34, the author, a psychotherapist, athlete and volunteer, is almost completely blind. She nevertheless remains full of light, not allowing the growing darkness she faces to govern her life choices. She writes with candor and without self-pity about the progression of the disease, current research into a cure, the challenges in her life, and how she experiences the world. Alexander also expresses deep gratitude for the beauty she has seen, and the laughter and music she has heard, along with the gifts of life she experiences. “I have created memories that will stay with me long after my eyes and ears have lost their ability to capture new ones,” she writes. 
In addition to writing five novels, the late Laurie Colwin was also known for her essays about food, which merit being read and reread. A new edition of More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen (Harper) includes essays on coffee, her love of cookbooks, dinner parties, picnics, turkey angst and more, as she rolls up her sleeves in the kitchen and shares recipes. Her writing is infused with warmth – she has been described as the friend you’d always want in your kitchen. 
The narrator of Stephanie Feldman’s http://stephaniefeldman.com/about sparkling debut, The Angel of Losses (Ecco) is writing a dissertation on the tradition of the Wandering Jew. The author enlivens the search with two characters she found in folklore, who have largely disappeared: the White Rebbe, who traveled along a magical path from a Polish cave to the Holy Land, and the Angel of Losses, who was mentioned by an 18th century mystic. Feldman’s contemporary story involves forays into the imagined past.
Nomi Eve’s Henna House (Scribner) is an unusual literary portrait of the Yemenite Jewish community in the last century. Eve, the author of the highly-praised debut, The Family Orchard, spins a coming-of-age story of a young woman in a mountain village in northern Yemen. The daughter of a cobbler and his difficult wife, she learns the art and ritual of henna tattooing through her relatives and it becomes a way to understand both love and her heritage, as well as a means of survival. The historical novel is set against the background of the founding of the State of Israel and the emigration of the Yemenite community. 
An impressive first novel, Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s Panic in a Suitcase (Riverhead) details the new lives of three generations of a Jewish family from Odessa – “whose nobility was strictly of spirit” – most of whom immigrate to Brooklyn. Born in Odessa in 1985, Akhtiorskaya immigrated to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn at age 7. She writes with energy and originality, painting her characters with humor and complexity, as they are suspended between two worlds.
Alyson Richman's latest novel, The Garden of Letters (Berkley) opens in Portofino, Italy, 1943, when a young woman fleeing to safety from northern Italy embarks from a train. With a new name, she has learned to look plain, almost invisible. She is surprised when a stranger pretends to be her cousin and helps her get past the German officers, later telling her that he goes to the station once a month and helps the person who appears most afraid. Once a cello prodigy, the woman is drawn into the resistance movement and is again able to use her musical skills. 
Stories of exile are at the heart of Gina Nahai’s new novel, The Luminous Heart of Jonah S (Akashic). In the first sentence, readers learn of a death that’s most likely a murder, and a mystery, set among the community of Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles and stretching back to Iran. In this family saga, she writes knowingly of the generations, including the “lost generation of Iranian women who fled the country in their early teens and became stranded in the netherworld between East and West.” 

Sarah Wildman’s Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead) is a memoir, detailing many discoveries that grew out of Wildman’s search for a woman whose photo and letters she found in her grandfather’s files after his death. Her grandfather had fled Vienna in 1938, after receiving his medical degree. Wildman, a journalist who often writes about the intersection of politics and culture, began reporting for Slate on her efforts to solve the mystery. “I felt compelled to recover her in some way; to imagine her world, to recreate as much of it as I could, so that she had not simply been disappeared,” she writes. The book powerfully touches on issues of memory, loss and identity – that of both subject and author.

 Read an interview with Judith Frank, author of All I Love and Know, another book for fall reading. 

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