It is 1998. The old Soviet Union is dead, and the new, Russia is awash in corruption and despair. Manya and Yuri Zalinikov, secular Jews — he, a gifted mathematician recently dismissed from the Academy; she, a talented concert pianist — sell black market electronics in a market stall, until threatened with a gun by a mafioso in search of protection money. Yuri sinks into a Chekhovian melancholy, emerging to announce that he wants to “live as a Jew” in Israel. Manya and their daughter, Galina, are desolate, asking, “How does one do that, and why?”
And thus begins their odyssey — part tragedy, part comedy, always surprising. Struggling against loneliness, language, and danger, in a place Manya calls “more cousin’s club than country,” Yuri finds a Talmudic teacher equally addicted to religion and luxury; Manya finds a job playing the piano at The White Nights supper club, owned by a wealthy, flamboyant Russian with a murky history, who offers lust disguised as love. Galina, enrolled at Hebrew University, finds dance clubs and pizza emporiums and a string of young men, one of whom Manya hopes will save her from the Israeli Army by marrying her.
Against a potpourri of marriage wigs, matchmaking television shows, disastrous investment schemes, and a suicide bombing, the Zalinikovs confront the thin line between religious faith and skepticism, as they try to answer: What does it mean to be fully human, what does it mean to be Jewish? And what role in all of this does the mazel gene play?
Jerusalem As A Second Language by Rochelle Distelheim is a very informative and entertaining novel. Author, Rochelle Distelheim put so much effort into this novel, it is very impressive.
This has its moments of humor while being poetic and absorbing. I had trouble setting this down, which is interesting because this is a genre I don’t normally reach for.
I learned quite a bit about a culture I didn’t know much about. This is a very necessary story and I think it was worth reading. I would definitely recommend checking it out.
*I received a free copy of this book from Over the River PR in exchange for an honest review on the blog tour. All opinions are my own and unbiased.*
Rochelle Distelheim, a Chicago native, earned numerous short story literary awards, including The Katherine Anne Porter Prize; Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and Fellowships; The Ragdale Foundation Fellowships; The Faulkner Society Gold Medal in Novel-in-Progress; The Faulkner Society Gold Medal in Novel; The Gival Press 2017 Short Story Competition; Finalist, Glimmer Train’s Emerging Writers; and The Salamander Second Prize in Short Story. In addition, Rochelle’s short stories earned nominations for The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Her stories have appeared in national magazines such as Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day, Woman’s World, Working Woman, Working Mother, and more. Her first novel, Sadie in Love, was published in 2018 when she was 90 years old. She lived in Highland Park, IL.
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