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Seven Jewish Literary Fiction Books To Read This Year

From Jami Attenberg’s ‘All Grown Up’ to Dalia Rosenfeld’s ‘The Worlds We Think We Know,’ these are the books I’ll undoubtedly be reading in 2017

Miranda Cooper
February 10, 2017
Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Facebook
Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Facebook

Lovers of Jewish literary fiction have lots to look forward to in the coming months.

Last year saw the release of highly-anticipated novels like Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, and Amos Oz’s Judas. This year, January alone has already given us Paul Auster’s long-awaited 4 3 2 1 and Ruth Gilligan’s Nine Folds Make a Paper SwanAnd the rest of 2017 look just as promising. Several are debuts or will be the first time an author has published a book in English. Some are American, others are Israeli. Here are a few I’m looking forward to:

Schadenfreude: A Love Story by Rebecca Schuman (available Feb. 7)
With possibly the longest subtitle I’ve ever read (“Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Misconmunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For”), Schuman’s first book, a literary memoir, came out just this week. Currently a columnist for Slate, Schuman writes about herself as a 90s Jewish teenager who becomes obsessed with all things German (plus Kafka). Schuman’s voice is edgy and funny, and I’m excited to read a book that covers the quirky ground of academic fixation that many of us know all too well.

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Feb. 28)
This is Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s first novel published in the United States; she is an Israeli screenwriter. Waking Lions revolves around the question “If you had committed a deadly mistake, what would you do?” About a neurosurgeon who hits and accidentally kills a pedestrian, the book takes place in Israel; Gundar-Goshen has a psychology degree, and it seems that she brings that to bear upon her characters, which should make for a thought-provoking and thrilling story.

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (Mar. 7)
In her newest novel, Jami Attenberg, the author of five novels including The Middlesteins and, most recently, Saint Mazie, writes about a single, childless Jewish woman in New York on the brink of middle age. Attenberg’s characters are always drawn with immense detail and lovingly rendered; Andrea, the protagonist and narrator of All Grown Up, is no different. I’ve only just begun to read an advanced review copy, but this short novel already exudes frank feminism and Attenberg’s characteristic mix of humor and poignancy.

What To Do About the Solomons by Bethany Ball (Apr. 4)
Bethany Ball’s debut novel is “a hilarious, multigenerational family saga set in Israel, New York, and Los Angeles.” Marc Solomon is a California financier; the rest of the family are kibbutzniks. With its quirky cast of many different members of the kibbutz community, the novel (judging by its description) seems reminiscent of Jessamyn Hope’s Safekeeping. I always love a good family novel, and the jacket copy claims affinity to Nathan Englander, so I hope this novel will live up to its description.

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (Apr. 4)
This new novel by the Brooklyn-based author of Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence (a fun novel set at small Northeast liberal arts college) is perhaps the one on this list I’m most excited about. Tell Me How This Ends Well, which takes place in a 2022 when “American Jews face an increasingly unsafe and anti-Semitic landscape,” may hit a little too close to home right now, but that’s precisely why it’s important. The novel comes out just in time for Passover, which is fitting given that it is set in Los Angeles as the Jacobson family gathers for Pesach and considers patricide (yes, you read that correctly). Who among us hasn’t read a darkly humorous novel whose action takes place around a Jewish holiday or other gathering? It’s a great plot device, and I don’t mean that pejoratively (think: Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys). The family story in the novel seems reminiscent of Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Joshua Henkin’s The World Without You, and Netflix’s Transparent; the political conditions are similar to those in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. If that weren’t enough to send you clamoring to the bookstore, Daniel Torday suggests Levinson’s novel is like a Jewish George Saunders story. If the novel lives up to these (admittedly formidable) comparisons, it’s sure to be a hit.

The Worlds We Think We Know by Dalia Rosenfeld (May 16)
Dalia Rosenfeld, a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop who now lives in Tel Aviv, has written a collection of short stories set in both the U.S. and Israel. In reading about Rosenfeld’s new book, I am reminded of Molly Antopol’s The UnAmericans, which earned her honors from the National Book Foundation, PEN America, and the Jewish Book Council. Excellent short story collections can signal the beginning of a promising literary career, and I am always eager to read new literary fiction by Jewish women. The best thing about short story collections? Even if not all of them speak to you, chances are that some of them will. Though May seems far away as I watch snow swirl outside my window, I’ll be sure to look for this book when it comes out.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss (Sept. 12)
According to Goodreads and Amazon, accompanied by no information, and confirmed by no one, Nicole Krauss has a new novel coming out in September. Krauss’s backlist should be enough of a reason to be excited about this: just to name one, The History of Love is simply a masterpiece. I can’t tell you anything else about Forest Dark, but this will be an important one for Jewish lit aficionados.

Miranda Cooper is an editorial intern at Tablet. Follow her on Twitter here.