The Shovel and the Loom

Carl Friedman, Author, Jeannette K. Ringold, Translator
Carl Friedman, Author, Jeannette K. Ringold, Translator Persea Books $20 (168p) ISBN 978-0-89255-216-0
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-89255-231-3
Hardcover - 176 pages - 978-0-89255-408-9
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Chaya, an atheistic Belgian philosophy student, daughter of Holocaust survivors, makes funeral wreaths in a flower shop and also works as a nanny, taking care of Simoha Kalman, a serious, precocious three-year-old Hasidic boy. Her spontaneous, ""inexplicable"" love for this toddler ignites her interest in Jewish tradition, and for much of this beautiful, poignant novel, Dutch writer Friedman, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors, follows her protagonist's search for what it means to be a Jew. Chaya finds one model of Jewish identity in her father, who fled Berlin in the 1930s, joined the Belgian anti-Nazi resistance and who now, in the Antwerp of 1970, believes that Jews must be flexible and assimilate in order to survive. Chaya's mother, an Auschwitz survivor ""for whom Judaism equaled pain,"" blocks out the past through compulsive housework. Their neighbor, old Jacov Apfelschnitt, a devotee of Jewish mysticism, declares Judaism is ""the only religion that promises redemption in exchange for critical thinking."" Friedman, whose first novel, Nightfather, portrayed a girl who tries to unlock her father's concentration camp past, broadens her range here as Chaya grapples with such issues as whether God exists, the irrational hatred of Jews over the centuries and whether the universe is a random, meaningless coincidence. The novel closes with a tragedy, possibly instigated by the Kalmans' concierge, a ranting anti-Semite, which propels Chaya toward a renewed commitment to religious faith. Friedman writes like a dream, and her compelling evocation of the diverse strands of Jewishness is utterly convincing. (May)
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