Reviews: January/February 2017

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Among the Living
Jonathan Rabb ’86
Other Press, $25.95
Reviewed by Sylvia Brownrigg ’86

Sylvia Brownrigg’s new novel, Pages for Her, will be published next summer.

Jonathan Rabb, author of a successful series of historical thrillers, turns to 1947 Savannah in a compelling and vividly peopled story that brings distinct Jewish cultures into contact.

Yitzhak Goldah is a bright Czech journalist who has survived—in body, if not fully in spirit—a harrowing experience in the camps, and has come to stay with his American cousin, Abe Jesler, and try to rebuild his life. Abe and his wife Pearl, with no children of their own, rename the 31-year-old “Ike”—a “very strong” name, and so much easier to say!—and give him a job at Abe’s shoe store and a welcome in their (Conservative) community. Goldah, and Rabb too, are discreet about camp details, but the sensitive Goldah is aware that in interactions with these privileged Americans it is “for him to console for his past,” and to forgive the pity or even revulsion they may feel for him.

Exceptions to those attitudes are found in the African Americans Goldah encounters who work for the Jeslers, characters whom Rabb fleshes out with griefs and ambitions; and in a young widow named Eva De la Parra, a member of Savannah’s Reform community—or “temple Jews.” We learn some of Savannah’s rich history through Goldah’s eyes, stories of the Sephardim who have been in the coastal city over two hundred years, in contrast to the more recently arrived German Jews like the Jeslers.

Rabb’s narrative includes a subplot in Abe’s slightly shady import practices, and the mysterious arrival of a troubled Czech woman named Malke, also a survivor, who may or may not have been Goldah’s fiancée. Choices must be made, and secrets uncovered, but the powerful heart of this affecting and humane novel is the journey Yitzhak Goldah takes to reclaim the meaning of his life, and self—finding both in the redemption of love and family.

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