Thursday, December 07, 2017

A gallery of fifteen historical fiction reads for Jewish Book Month

Jewish Book Month, an annual celebration of Jewish literature sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, has been in existence since 1943, though its history extends even further back. This year, it's being held between November 12 - December 12, 2017. The dates change each year, since it takes place just before Hanukkah.

As my way of participating in this event, here are 15 historical novels — family sagas, biographical novels, literary fiction, plus a couple of mysteries — featuring Jewish characters and/or focusing on aspects of Jewish history. Some of these are titles I've reviewed previously, and others are on my TBR. I've aimed to provide examples covering a range of geographic settings.

For additional examples, see the Jewish Book Council's historical fiction reading list. Please leave recommendations for other books in the comments!

The Galapagos Islands, WWII: Frances and Ainslie Conway, a married couple working for the Office of Naval Intelligence, embark on a clandestine mission on these distant islands but keep many secrets from each other. Based on historical characters. [see on Goodreads]

France and Germany, mid-13th century:  the story of renowned German rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, the author’s ancestor, as seen from his wife’s viewpoint. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]

Yemen, 1920: in this intimate saga about Yemenite Jews, a young girl learns about her heritage through the artistry of henna tattoos. [see on Goodreads]

Ireland, 20th century and present-day: the story of the little-known Jewish community in Ireland unfolds through three distinct stories spanning over 100 years. [see on Goodreads]

The US South, 1820s-30s: when a Jewish peddler falls in love with an independent Cherokee woman, he becomes personally entangled in a tragic tale set in motion twenty years earlier. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]

St. Thomas, early 19th century: a lyrical fictional biography of Rachel, a young woman from Paris who later became the mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. [see on Goodreads]

U.S. Civil War: a young Jewish man runs into trouble when he’s asked to infiltrate a group of suspected Confederate spies. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]

London, 1660s and today: in this dual-period literary novel, a modern historian seeks to uncover the identity of a scribe from centuries earlier. [see on Goodreads]

Spain, late 15th century: as the Inquisition solidifies its power across Spain, King Ferdinand's chancellor Luis de Santangel, who comes from a converso family, begins to examine his faith and cultural identity. [see on Goodreads]

Chicago, 1872:  after an Orthodox rabbi is murdered, his daughter, Rivka, teams up with an Irish detective to find the perpetrator. [see on Goodreads]

Connecticut, 1948: after what should be a relaxing summer at "Bagel Beach" along the shoreline turns unexpectedly tragic, the sisters in a close-knit Jewish family must deal with the lengthy fallout. [see on Goodreads]

Palestine, early 20th century: in this work of magical realism (the author's first novel), several Ukrainian families move from Europe to settle in a rural village in Ottoman Palestine. [see on Goodreads]

Cape Ann, 1927: a girl’s secret birth mother and her adoptive mother, one from a prominent Jewish family and the other the  matriarch of a large Irish clan, find their lives intertwining again. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]

Prague, 1592: a Talmudic scholar investigates the murder of a young Christian girl, hoping to exonerate one of his fellow Jews. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]

1920s-1970s Israel, as seen through the experiences of several women over four generations in a Sephardic Jewish family. [see my review] [see on Goodreads]


  1. Anonymous9:09 PM

    I think Gay Courter's Flowers In The Blood, a family saga loosely based on the Jewish Sassoon dynasty, set in 19th Century British India deserves mention; it is vividly written and brings to life the customs of the lesser-known Jewish communities of the Baghdadi Jews and the Bene Israel. It's one of my favorite novels, with a strong female protagonist.
    Another Jewish historical classic in my opinion is Marjorie Edelson's Malkeh and Her Children, another wonderfully detailed, generational family saga that takes the reader from Tsarist Russia through the Russian Revolution and finally to immigrant America, with another strong female protagonist at its core.
    Both books deserve to be filmed.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations of both books. I'm excited because I've had copies of them around for a while, unread, and it's been so long since I bought them (at a library book sale years ago) that I'd forgotten what they were about. But they sound like just the type of book I'd enjoy. I'll need to find out where they are. I appreciate your posting about them.

  3. Thanks, Sarah, they all sound fascinating. I am particularly intrigued by the murder mystery. I'm betting the Irish detective gets some more novels! :-)

    An Interview With Deborah Abela

  4. Hi Sue, you're right! :) There is another book in the series, For You Were Strangers - with both the Irish detective and the rabbi's daughter.