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The Beautiful Possible
Cover of The Beautiful Possible
The Beautiful Possible
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

This epic, enthralling debut novel—in the vein of Nicole Krauss' The History of Love—follows a postwar love triangle between an American rabbi, his wife, and a German-Jewish refugee.

Spanning seventy years and several continents—from a refugee's shattered dreams in 1938 Berlin, to a discontented American couple in the 1950s, to a young woman's life in modern-day Jerusalem—this epic, enthralling novel tells the braided love story of three unforgettable characters. In 1946, Walter Westhaus, a German Jew who spent the war years at Tagore's ashram in India, arrives at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he meets Sol Kerem, a promising rabbinical student. A brilliant nonbeliever, Walter is the perfect foil for Sol's spiritual questions—and their extraordinary connection is too wonderful not to share with Sol's free-spirited fiancée Rosalie. Soon Walter and Rosalie are exchanging notes, sketches, and secrets, and begin a transcendent love affair in his attic room, a temple of dusty tomes and whispered poetry. Months later they shatter their impossible bond, retreating to opposite sides of the country—Walter to pursue an academic career in Berkeley and Rosalie and Sol to lead a congregation in suburban New York. A chance meeting years later reconnects Walter, Sol, and Rosalie—catching three hearts and minds in a complex web of desire, heartbreak, and redemption. With extraordinary empathy and virtuosic skill, The Beautiful Possible considers the hidden boundaries of marriage and faith, and the mysterious ways we negotiate our desires.

This epic, enthralling debut novel—in the vein of Nicole Krauss' The History of Love—follows a postwar love triangle between an American rabbi, his wife, and a German-Jewish refugee.

Spanning seventy years and several continents—from a refugee's shattered dreams in 1938 Berlin, to a discontented American couple in the 1950s, to a young woman's life in modern-day Jerusalem—this epic, enthralling novel tells the braided love story of three unforgettable characters. In 1946, Walter Westhaus, a German Jew who spent the war years at Tagore's ashram in India, arrives at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he meets Sol Kerem, a promising rabbinical student. A brilliant nonbeliever, Walter is the perfect foil for Sol's spiritual questions—and their extraordinary connection is too wonderful not to share with Sol's free-spirited fiancée Rosalie. Soon Walter and Rosalie are exchanging notes, sketches, and secrets, and begin a transcendent love affair in his attic room, a temple of dusty tomes and whispered poetry. Months later they shatter their impossible bond, retreating to opposite sides of the country—Walter to pursue an academic career in Berkeley and Rosalie and Sol to lead a congregation in suburban New York. A chance meeting years later reconnects Walter, Sol, and Rosalie—catching three hearts and minds in a complex web of desire, heartbreak, and redemption. With extraordinary empathy and virtuosic skill, The Beautiful Possible considers the hidden boundaries of marriage and faith, and the mysterious ways we negotiate our desires.

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About the Author-
  • Amy Gottlieb's fiction and poetry have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, and she is the recipient of fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. She lives in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2015
    A trio of young Jews is caught in a web of desire in the years following World War II. Sol Kerem, a rabbinical student in New York, is engaged to be married to the beautiful Rosalie when a mysterious German Jew named Walter Westhaus suddenly appears in his classes. After witnessing his own fiancee and his father shot down by Nazi soldiers, Walter escaped to an ashram in India, where he spent the remaining war years. Now in his mid-20s, Walter has been brought to New York by an academic who believes in his intellectual promise. Walter and Sol become study partners, and soon, Walter and Rosalie become partners in much more than study. Their affair spans decades. As Rosalie builds both a congregation and a family with Sol in New York, she continues to carry on with Walter, who has moved out to Berkeley. Gottlieb's debut novel is an ambitious study of faith, doubt, and desire both erotic and spiritual. Unfortunately, the novel begins at an emotional pitch so high it can't be sustained. Walter and Rosalie's passion for each other begins to feel tiresome. Sol, who endures a spiritual crisis as well as this cuckolding, is a flat and pathetic character, mostly unrealized. For a book that takes intense emotion as its subject, it is peculiarly unfeeling. After all, what about Sol? The only thought that Walter and Rosalie give him is a sideways one: their affair, Rosalie thinks, is "possible and beautiful and wrong all at the same time." That affair is described in purple, overheated prose that fails to comprehend the nuance of its own subject. The end result feels, peculiarly, both overblown and underarticulated. A debut novel about faith and desire falls short of its ambitious goals.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    December 15, 2015
    Rosalie, Sol, and Walter first meet at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Sol is studying to become a rabbi. Walter, who spent time in India following his escape from Nazi Germany, becomes Sol's chavrusa, or study partner, and they form a close bond. Although Rosalie is engaged to Sol, she and Walter have a brief and intense affair. Walter goes on to pursue an academic career, while Sol and Rosalie marry and move to the suburbs, where Sol founds a shul. But Rosalie, despite a full life as a wife and mother, never stops yearning for Walter. Walter and Sol are her milk and meat; she wants them both. Over the years, Sol and Rosalie raise their family, Sol struggles with his role as a rabbi, and Rosalie and Walter find ways to reaffirm their love. Though it's not entirely free of the flatness that can seep into the process of moving characters through a long stretch of years, Gottlieb's first novel carries readers along with its artful weaving together of Talmudic concepts and complex human emotions.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

  • Elizabeth Berg, author of THE DREAM LOVER "I've never read anything quite like this lyrical and infinitely wise novel...It's about faith and love and lust and mysticism and poetry and the eroticism of spices...Mostly, though, it's about how a book can be a wonder. If books could shimmer, this one would."
  • Meg Wolitzer, author of THE INTERESTINGS and BELZHAR "THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE is a deeply felt and evocative novel that draws on history, memory, all the senses, and the author's own considerable conjuring skills. Alive with characters and unafraid to examine ambiguous emotional complexities, this is a moving debut."
  • San Francisco Book Review, 5/5 stars "Amy Gottlieb has written a beautiful first novel...this book is a meditation on faith and religion, on love and faithfulness, on feminism, on the times in which the characters lived, and on the meaning of life...a truly satisfying novel."
  • Shelf Awareness "Gottlieb tells her story in evocative prose, juxtaposing vivid physical details with unsolvable riddles of faith. Her three protagonists toss mystical phrases back and forth, less interested in answers than in the process of intellectual wrestling...[THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE] glimmers with moments of hope."
  • Lilith "Always engaging...sure to resonate with many readers. Its greatest strengths lie in its ability to capture the essence of the religious life without any preciousness...in order to examine and attempt to resolve the tensions between Jewish law and the sometimes contradictory, often mysterious, workings of the human heart."
  • Jewish Book Council "A fable for the modern era, a love story steeped in biblical text and mystical yearning— The Beautiful Possible illuminates the struggle to find one's identity in a world rife with expectation and judgment."
  • The Times of Israel "[Gottlieb's] eclectic amalgam of inspirations lends an extraordinary air of magic and allure to THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE, inviting the reader to push their imagination to the limit and explore unthought—of possibilitiesa brief glimpse of the truly mystical."
  • Kirkus "Gottlieb's debut novel is an ambitious study of faith, doubt, and desire both erotic and spiritual."
  • Booklist "Gottlieb's first novel carries readers along with its artful weaving together of Talmudic concepts and complex human emotions."
  • Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and The History of Last Night's Dream "This enchanting novel is a "braid" of romance, passion, betrayal, of marriage, family, and loss...Read it once for its story, again for its wisdom, and one more time for its poetry and truth."
  • Nomi Eve, author of THE FAMILY ORCHARD and HENNA HOUSE "Readers will delight in Gottlieb's metaphors, which express the otherwise inexpressible...This is a lovely book, whose dual themes of faith and passion braid together powerfully like the wicks of a candle whose flame marks the transition between the ordinary and the holy, the sacred and the profane."
  • Jillian Cantor, author of MARGOT and THE HOURS COUNT "Poetic and deeply moving, THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE is an artfully woven story of love and loss, of spirituality and desire, of the stories that make us who we are and the stories we tell ourselves. Gottlieb's debut is beautifully written and captivating."
  • Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of SINGLE JEWISH MALE SEEKING SOUL MATE "THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE is impossibly beautiful, also luminous, lyrical, and unforgettable. With this stunning first novel, Amy Gottlieb announces herself as a formidable literary talent and a bright star in the firmament of 21st century Jewish writers."
  • Aryeh Lev Stollman, author of THE FAR EUPHRATES and THE ILLUMINATED SOUL "What makes THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE so astonishing is not simply its elegant prose and erudition or the compelling love story at its core with its moments of joy and heartbreak, but the novel's deep sense of wisdom...a grand meditation on human and godly grace."
  • Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, co-author of Jewish Stories of Love and Marriage: Folktales, Legends and Letters "You won't want to leave this place of everyday astonishments. Amy Gottlieb's poetic prose is reminiscent of the novels of Chaim Potok and woven from the threads of women's wisdom. THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE is a story you will long remember."
  • JWeekly.com "THE BEAUTIFUL POSSIBLE asks readers to consider how to reconcile all that the world is - confusing, nebulous, disorderly, violent, occasionally beautiful and mostly unpredictable - with all that they may wish it to be: linear, binary, organized, explainable and clear-cut."
  • The Jewish Week "In a style that feels natural, Gottlieb weaves Jewish wisdom, texts and storytelling into narrative...
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