It's like a spotting a shooting star when you have a really important wish to make; sometimes all the books you're reading just start speaking to each other.
Most recently I read and/or am reading
Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See
Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller
Alice Hoffman's The Marriage of Opposites
I started with Alice Hoffman's The Marriage of Opposites, which is a novel that centers itself in a Jewish community in St. Thomas.
It's about forbidden love, the rigidity of "other"communities (Jewish and African), how magical life can be, and how everyone sees it differently. It's about Rachel Pissarro, mother of the great Impressionist Camille Pissarro, and about Camille Pissarro, too. What's interesting is that I knew nothing about Jewish communities in the colonies; I'm not sure I knew they existed. It gave me this whole other perspective about how Jewish communities developed in the 19th century, how they tried so desperately to preserve their faith and their culture, how characters like Rachel and Camille connected the magic of the tropics and the mysteries of their faith. (I cannot recommend it enough; I am a huge Hoffman fan now.)
Then I read Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller.
I think I mentioned it somewhere else, too, but I'm not that into WWII historical fiction. I took a holocaust lit class in undergrad, read Primo Levi's Se questo è un uomo (Survival in Auschwitz) in the original Italian, I visited Auschwitz when I was in Poland, and it's just hard for me to imagine that something written by a contemporary writer is going to add to that. I stuck with The Storyteller because the main character, Sage, is so loveable, and I'm glad I did. The premise is that a former Nazi befriends Sage and asks her to forgive him and help him die. It's intertwined with Sage's baking, the narrative of a lawyer who works to prosecute war criminals, Sage's grandmother's memories of Auschwitz, the story about vampires Sage's grandmother wrote in Auschwitz, and the memories of the Nazi, Josef. So The Marriage of Opposites added to my interest in the memories of the Polish-Jewish community Sage's grandmother comes from, Sage's rejection of religion, and the lawyer's love of the faith and its people. Also, the Nazi has one of Alice Hoffman's books on his desk. And then this article came out: "94-Year-Old Former Auschwitz Guard Found Guilty Of Complicity In 170,000 Murders" . Crazy, right?
"I don't believe in God. But sitting there, in a room full of those who feel otherwise, I realize that I do believe in people. In their strength to help each other, and to thrive in spite of the odds. I believe that the extraordinary trumps the ordinary, any day. I believe that having something to hope for--even if it's just a better tomorrow--is the most powerful drug on this planet." - Sage
And now I'm in the middle of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See.
It's less about the Jewish experience in WWII, and more about the experiences of the French and Germans. Not only are the narratives mixed like the other two books, but the characters and their voices are incredibly composed. I also really like that there is such magic in this novel, too.