Journeys far and near
Four novels, old and new
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The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams: The Nesting Dolls, out on July 14, is a fascinating multigeneration tale that moves from Stalin-era Siberia to Brighton Beach, N.Y., in 2019. The story focuses on the women in a Russian Jewish family who face incredible obstacles just to survive. Adams shows the horrors of Stalin’s Soviet Union and the desperate choices some people made. The book ends with Zoya, a young woman who grew up in the United States. She has a private-school education and privileges her parents and grandparents could only dream of. She loves them and finds them embarrassing, not much interested in their histories and how the past shaped them. Adams combines rich historical detail with an engrossing narrative. The book contains several obscenities directed at Stalin.
Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two by Ann B. Ross: In this 22nd book in a long-running series, Miss Julia has turned over a new leaf. She vows no longer to be a busybody, but circumstances make that pledge hard to keep. For one thing, her starchy next-door neighbor and good friend has learned she has a grandchild. For another, her plans to help a friend buy a business and gain economic security seem likely to go awry. Miss Julia’s husband is a good foil, tempering some of her enthusiasms. He loves and admires her despite her faults. Christians will appreciate Ross’ depiction of Miss Julia, a Christian with many faults who is also quick to acknowledge them.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: When their father dies during the Great Depression, two Irish American siblings end up at a boarding school for Native children. Although some of the teachers care about the kids, the school’s leaders condone and participate in abuse. Four children run away in search of identity and a home. Their journey takes them down the Mississippi River, where they meet bandits and faith healers, keeping one step ahead of the school officials who pursue them. Krueger tells a page-turning tale, rich in historical detail and many fantastic elements. The children encounter characters that reflect incredible human kindness and others who display the depths of human depravity.
One Fine Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross by Harry Kemelman: Harry Kemelman died in 1996, but his series of mystery novels lives on. Set in a Boston suburb, the novels feature Rabbi David Small, who oversees the only synagogue in town and manages to offend many in his congregation by his unwillingness to put up with silliness. Kemelman sets the action of this novel in Jerusalem, where Rabbi Small and his wife are spending the summer. Trouble brews when he refuses to attend a bar mitzvah for a middle-aged man at the Western Wall and seems to implicate a wayward son in a crime. Kemelman’s novels are politically dated, but they offer clean fun and insight into a Jewish worldview and congregational politics.
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