JCC MetroWest Book Group
Our book group is free, open to both members and non-members, and you can join and begin attending at any time! Due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, all meetings will be held on Zoom until further notice. All book discussions will begin at 12 noon and will be immediately followed by talks with the authors at 1:00 pm. Click the button below for the Book Group archives. For more information contact, Katy Strulson, 973-530-3915, [email protected].
Wednesday, October 20
More Than I Love My Life, by David Grossman *Presentation to begin at 12:30 PM.
The story of three strong women: Vera, age ninety; her daughter, Nina; and her granddaughter, Gili, a filmmaker and wary consumer of affection. A bitter secret divides each mother and daughter pair. They travel together to Goli Otok, a barren island off the coast of Croatia, where Vera was imprisoned and tortured for three years as a young wife for refusing to betray her husband. This unlikely journey—filtered through the lens of Gili’s camera, as she seeks to make a film that might help explain her life—lays bare the intertwining of fear, love, and mercy, and the complex overlapping demands of romantic and parental passion. Inspired by the true story of one of David Grossman’s longtime confidantes, a woman who, in the early 1950s, was held on the notorious Goli Otok (“the Adriatic Alcatraz”).
Thursday, November 18
Rebel Daughter, by Lori Banov Kaufmann
A young woman survives the unthinkable in this stunning and emotionally satisfying tale of family, love, and resilience, set against the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Esther dreams of so much more than the marriage her parents have arranged to a prosperous silversmith. She must accept the burden of being the dutiful daughter, yet she is torn between her family responsibilities and her own desires. Meanwhile, growing turmoil threatens to tear apart not only her beloved city, Jerusalem but also her own family. As the streets turn into a bloody battleground between rebels and Romans, Esther’s journey becomes one of survival. She remains fiercely devoted to her family and braves famine, siege, and slavery to protect those she loves.
Thursday, December 16
Send for Me, by Lauren Fox
Fox draws on actual family letters for a poignant fictional memoir of her Jewish grandparents, who left Germany in 1938 with her mother and settled in Milwaukee. Annelise, the daughter of bakery owners in Feldenheim, Germany, is struggling with her own adolescence against the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism. In her early 20s, she finds true love, marries, and, in the midst of increasingly vicious anti-Semitic cruelty, has a child, Ruth. The young family seeks asylum in America. Two generations later in a small Midwestern city, Annelise’s granddaughter, Clare, stumbles upon a trove of her grandmother’s letters from Germany, and she sees the history of her family’s sacrifices in a new light. Fox satisfyingly brings this story of love and desire full circle, as Clare and Ruth reflect on what it means to be both a mother and a child in the darkest of times.
Tuesday, January 18
Mary Jane, by Jessica Anya Blau
In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane Dillard takes a summer job nannying for a Jewish psychiatrist’s family in a gone-wild household utterly unlike the Presbyterian, straight-arrow, conservative one she knows. The Cones are blunt, messy, loud, affectionate, and are attempting to rehabilitate a heroin-addicted rock star and his actress wife in their attic suite. They give Mary Jane a crash course in living out loud, introducing her to new experiences, music, and ideas: bralessness, group therapy, Black-owned record stores, and healthy open marriage. Mary Jane introduces the Cones to regular mealtimes and crisply ironed shirts but starts to see her President Ford-worshipping parents in a different light. A charming and poignant tale of desire, image, Americana, and chosen family.
Thursday, February 17
Morningside Heights, by Joshua Henkin
Escaping her Orthodox Jewish Ohio family, Pru Steiner moves to New York in 1976 to be an actress, but she falls in love with and marries Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor. Thirty years later, something is wrong with Spence. The Great Man can’t concentrate; he falls asleep reading The New York Review of Books. With their daughter, Sarah, away at medical school, Pru must struggle on her own to care for him. One day, feeling especially isolated, Pru meets a man and the possibility of new romance blooms. Meanwhile, Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage, a wealthy biotech entrepreneur, has come back into their lives. A sweeping novel about a marriage surviving hardship, the love of family, and surviving when life turns out differently from what we thought we signed up for.
Tuesday, March 22
Those Who Are Saved, by Alexis Landau
As a Russian Jewish émigré to France, Vera’s wealth cannot protect her or her four-year-old daughter, Lucie, once the Nazis occupy the country. After receiving notice that all foreigners must report to an internment camp, Vera makes the agonizing choice to leave Lucie with her beloved and trusted governess, safe until Vera can retrieve her. She and her husband have an opportunity to flee to America, but they are unable to reach Lucie, now at her governess’s remote family farm, in time. So begins a heartbreaking journey and separation. Vera’s marriage will falter, but her love for Lucie, her faith that her daughter lives, will only grow. As Vera’s determination to return to France and find Lucie crystalizes, she meets Sasha, a man on his own search for meaning. Together they will journey to Lucie and find her fate.
Wednesday, April 20
He Gets That From Me, by Jacqueline Friedland
It is hard to imagine a better novel for a book club discussion…A thoughtful and gripping family tale that will haunt readers long after finishing it. (Kirkus) Maggie Fisher, a young, single mom in downtown Phoenix, squandered her dreams of becoming a teacher when she fled her family home as a teenager. When Maggie stumbles onto an ad offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to gestate other people’s babies, she is seduced by all the ways the extra money could improve her life. After delivering twin babies and proudly handing them off to the Rigsdales, a married couple from New York, Maggie finally gets her life on a positive trajectory: she earns her degree, lands a great job, and builds a family of her own. She can’t fathom why, ten years after the fact, the fertility clinic is calling to ask for a follow-up DNA test.
Thursday, May 19
The Lost Shtetl, by Max Gross
For decades, the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol existed in happy isolation, virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared by the Holocaust and the Cold War, its residents enjoyed remarkable peace. It missed out on cars, and electricity, and the internet, and indoor plumbing. But when a marriage dispute spins out of control, the whole town comes crashing into the twenty-first century. This seemingly light fable may leave you meditating on serious questions. Imaginative and philosophical, funny and sad, old and new — mazel tov, Mr. Gross. (Kirkus) Winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
Tuesday, June 21
Little Pieces of Me, by Alison Hammer
Paige Meyer gets an email from a DNA testing website announcing that her father is a man she never met. Could this be why Paige never felt like she fit in her family, and why her mother always seemed distant? And what does it mean for Paige’s memories of her father, a man she idolized and whose death she is still grieving? Back in 1975, Betsy Kaplan, Paige’s mom and a straight-laced sophomore at the University of Kansas is tired of playing it safe. A night with the golden boy on campus has unexpected consequences. Betsy is determined to bury the truth and rebuild a stable life for her unborn child, whatever the cost. Told in dual timelines, Little Pieces of Me examines identity and how the way we define ourselves changes (or not) through our life experiences.
Wednesday, July 20
Rhapsody, by Mitchell James Kaplan
Rhapsody, spanning the years 1917 to 1937, portrays the life of Kay Swift, one of Broadway’s first female composers, extracting her from the shadow of her colleague and lover, George Gershwin. Swift, married to a Jewish, philandering financier, had three beautiful daughters and an aching desire to create provoking music. An encounter with George Gershwin alters the course of her life, propelling her on an intimate odyssey from domesticity to renowned composer. Snappy dialogue and lush prose bring the Jazz Age to life as Kaplan takes readers from Harlem rent parties to the stage lights of Broadway. Many famous names play bit parts along the way, among them Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, and Fred and Adele Astaire.
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An Afterlife – Intense – 4-Star – “Many books have been written about the Holocaust but not that many about the survivors and their life afterward. This book follows Ruby and Ilya, first in a DP camp in Germany and then trying to make a new life for themselves as refugees in New Jersey.” -Gaye Olin