Jewish Book Fest authors draw on history and hope - Albuquerque Journal

Jewish Book Fest authors draw on history and hope

Books of the Week

Eight authors give virtual talks about their books in the 2021 Fall Jewish Book Fest, hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque.

The first presentation, at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, features Joshua M. Greene’s book “Unstoppable.” The biography tells of Siggi B. Wilzig’s unbelievable daring in surviving Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp, two death marches and near starvation. Wilzig turns his life around as a near-penniless immigrant to the United States with a grade-school education and becomes a rich man in oil and banking.

“No one in history has done what he did,” Greene, a Holocaust scholar and filmmaker, said in a phone interview. “I think it’s important to know (his path to wealth) wasn’t about the money. …Money was a way to build a platform so that when he wanted to talk about the Holocaust, people were obliged to listen to him. It was his way to rebuild what the Jewish people had lost, to draw attention to the state of Israel, to remember the past.”

In the book, Greene said, you learn about the Holocaust from Wilzig’s perspective and if it touches your heart, you also understand it’s about the human condition, not just Jews.

In words and deeds, Wilzig also conveyed the message that one doesn’t have to give in to despair and tragedy.

The author said that by Wilzig’s own account, and the accounts of some 100 people Greene interviewed, they painted a portrait of Wilzig as a man who had managed, not overcome, his nightmares.

Indeed, Greene said, Wilzig didn’t know if he could live without the nightmares: “They give him an ultra-realistic appreciation of the miracle of being alive, especially as a Jew.” Greene’s other books include “Justice at Dachau: The Trials of an American Prosecutor” and “My Survival: A Girl on Schindler’s List.”

These are the other Book Fest events:

⋄ At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, Israeli author David Grossman talks about his novel “More Than I Love My Life.” It’s the story of the power of love as portrayed in strong women of three generations in one family.





⋄ At 7 p.m. Oct. 21, Annabelle Gurwitch discusses her recent book “You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility.” A Library Journal review describes it thusly: “A hilarious and honest collection of essays, Gurwitch’s perspective on both the major and the mundane will be relatable to anyone who understands how the American Dream has devolved into a fever dream.”





⋄ At 3 p.m. Oct. 24, Jean Hanff Korelitz talks about her book “The Plot: A Novel.” It’s about Jacob Finch Bonner, a promising novelist teaching in a third-rate master of fine arts program. His arrogant student Evan Parker declares he doesn’t need Bonner’s help because the plot of his manuscript is a sure winner. The former student dies without publishing his novel. Soon Bonner becomes a famous writer. Then he gets a letter accusing him of being a thief. But who is the real thief?






⋄ At 7 p.m. Oct. 28, Rachael Cerrotti presents her book “We Share the Same Sky: A Memoir of Memory & Migration.” It seamlessly shifts between the past and the present. The past is centered on Hana, Cerrotti’s maternal grandmother, the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Born in Czechoslovakia, the teenaged Hana flees to Denmark with a Zionist youth group and is aided by the kindness of strangers. First by a Danish family and then by a Swedish family after being forced eventually forced to escape on a refugee boat packed with herring.

Hana’s own friendships with the same families are played forward in the present, woven into Cerrotti’s own life story, her ties to them and her wider concern for present-day refugees. “It’s what I inherited and was my way into it … so it mattered in my own life,” she said in an interview.

“We Share the Same Sky” is also a seven-episode narrative podcast that debuted two years ago. Cerrotti produced it in collaboration with the USC Shoah Foundation. She is the foundation’s first Storyteller in Residence.


⋄ At 10 a.m. Oct. 31, Meriel Schindler will talk about her book “The Lost Café Schindler: One Family, Two Wars, and the Search for Truth.” The narrative centers around the Café Schindler, the social center of the Austrian town of Innsbruck between the two world wars. The book reconstructs the atmosphere of pre-war Innsbruck amidst the growing menace of the Nazi invasion and occupation. The author also tries to fathom her father and his wild claims: Did a relative include a Jewish doctor who treated Hitler’s mother when she was dying of cancer? Are the Schindlers related to author Franz Kafka’s family?






⋄ At 2 p.m. Nov. 7, Award-winning Israeli writer Yaniv Iczkovits discusses “The Slaughterman’s Daughter: A Novel.” It’s described as an epic historical adventure written in a “fabulist style” about a Jewish family drama set within a provincial town in late 19th century czarist Russia.

⋄ At 6 p.m. Nov. 14, Judy Batalion talks about “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos.” This unforgettable book reveals the heroism of young Jewish women in Nazi-occupied Poland who snuck bread, medical supplies and guns to those trapped in ghettos. These warriors maintained an underground network that plotted escape routes to Palestine, created safe houses for children, bribed Gestapo guards with liquor, sabotaged German supply lines and killed Nazis.

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