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Among the Living
Cover of Among the Living
Among the Living
A Novel
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"Jonathan Rabb is one of my favorite writers, a highly gifted, heart-wise storyteller if ever there was one. What a powerful, moving book." —David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author

A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor's unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives—distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers' dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak's past suddenly appears—one who is even more shattered than he is—Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life.
Set amid the backdrop of America's postwar south, Among the Living grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak's story during the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. Yitzhak begins to find echoes of his own experience in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers—an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves. This realization both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might have thought.
"Jonathan Rabb is one of my favorite writers, a highly gifted, heart-wise storyteller if ever there was one. What a powerful, moving book." —David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author

A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor's unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives—distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers' dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak's past suddenly appears—one who is even more shattered than he is—Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life.
Set amid the backdrop of America's postwar south, Among the Living grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak's story during the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. Yitzhak begins to find echoes of his own experience in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers—an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves. This realization both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might have thought.
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About the Author-
  • Jonathan Rabb is an American novelist, essayist, actor, and writer. He is the author of five novels: The Overseer, The Book of Q, and The Berlin Trilogy (Rosa, Shadow and Light, and The Second Son), a critically acclaimed series of historical thrillers set in Berlin and Barcelona between the world wars. Rosa won the 2006 Director's Special Prize at Spain's Semana Negra festival, and was named one of January Magazine's Best Books of 2005. Rabb has taught at Columbia University, New York University, the 92nd Street Y, and is currently an instructor in the writing department at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 14, 2016
    Rabb (The Berlin Trilogy) delves into the struggle to rebuild a life after unfathomable loss in this moving post-war novel. Yitzhak Goldah arrives in Savannah, Georgia, in 1947, two years after being freed from the Nazi camps where he lost his entire immediate family and his fiancé. He has come to the US to live with Abe and Pearl Jesler, his only remaining family, who almost immediately begin calling him Ike to Americanize his name. At just thirty-one, Ike is eager to overcome the trauma he experienced during the war—memories that are shared to great effect via flashback—but finds himself overwhelmed by the expectations of those around him. People stumble over their words, hesitate to ask questions, and use taking care of him as a way to prove their own goodness. But when Ike meets and falls in love with Eva, who comes from Savannah’s Reform community with which the Jesler’s Conservative community clashes, he is suddenly thrust into a longstanding feud between the Jewish communities—a conflict that seems ridiculous to him. His efforts to rebuild his own life are further muddied when the fiancé he believed to be dead shows up on the Jesler’s doorstep. Although some of the drama and tension falls flat, this is an engaging exploration of what happens after unthinkable violence and suffering, and how people struggle both to overcome what they experience directly and make sense of experiences they learn of second-hand.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2016
    Yitzhak Goldah arrives in Savannah, Georgia, in 1947 with a hat, a small suitcase, and the suit on his back, like "a sail still holding its shape even after the wind has died away."Goldah, a Czech Jew, is 31 years old; he has just survived two and a half years in concentration camps. Now the war has ended, and his cousins, Abe and Pearl Jesler, have sponsored his immigration to the American South. From the moment of his arrival, Goldah is struck by a series of hypocrisies. First there is the sodden pity directed at him by the Jeslers and their wealthy friends, who pant for information about what he's "been through" even as they squirm before the truth. Then there is the odd rivalry between Savannah's Conservative and Reform Jews, a division that may seem trivial to Goldah but which affects him all the same. It isn't long before Goldah, who has landed with the Conservative Jeslers, finds himself attracted to a beautiful Reform widow named Eva, drawing frowns of disapproval from both sides. Finally, there is the systematic oppression of black people, which Savannah's Jews participate in even as they are learning the extent of the devastation wreaked by the Holocaust. As Calvin, a black man who works for Abe, tells Goldah: "They tried to kill you, all a you, all at once. I seen that. But here they kill us one at a time and that's a difference." This is a lot for one slim novel to pack in, but Rabb, author of a trilogy of historical thrillers, packs in more. As it turns out, Abe, a shoe salesman, has involved himself in some illegal import business and is in over his head. Then a mysterious woman appears: Goldah, it seems, had once been engaged, and the fiancee he had presumed dead is alive. It's at this point that the novel starts to break down. Rabb is an accomplished storyteller with an eye for telling detail and for dialogue. The novel proceeds at a fast clip. But he's jammed in too much. The plot feels overly determined, burdened by the historical parallels Rabb is everywhere eager to draw. His desire to wrap up all these narrative lines seems too neat and tidy, too like a gift box tightly wrapped in string. An overly schematic novel about suffering, trauma, and the possibility of healing that works best in its moments of quiet, spare description.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2016

    In 1947, Yitzhak Goldah, a Holocaust survivor, arrives in Savannah, GA, to live with his only remaining relatives, Abe and Pearl Jesler. The Jeslers are Conservative Jews who want to make sure he fits into life in the American South, so they change his name to Ike and put him to work in Abe's shoe store. However, Yitzhak falls in love with a young widow who is a member of the Reformed Jewish community; he wants to pursue his calling as a journalist; and mobsters on the docks want bribes from Abe for his shipments of Italian shoes. Then a traumatized woman from Yitzhak's past shows up claiming to be his fiancee. Rabb, whose "Berlin Trilogy" examined the darkest corners of the German city between the World Wars, views the Jim Crow South through the eyes of a concentration camp survivor. He doesn't shy away from what it took to come out of a camp alive; but the author also demonstrates the goodness in the hearts of his Southern Jewish community. VERDICT In this amazing novel full of plot twists, Rabb examines true love, fair treatment to people of all races, how to practice honorable journalism, and what it means to be truly alive.--Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2016
    Rooted in the history of Holocaust refugees coming to America, this novel, set in post-WWII Savannah, tells a classic survival story in all its hope and heartbreak. Abe and Pearl Jesler take in Abe's young cousin, Goldah, from the camps. They change his name to Ike, and he falls in love with Eva, whose husband was killed in Germany in 1945. Ike remembers his father's elitism and suppresses horrific memories of witnessing his father shot after being forced to dig his own grave. But, then, in a surprising, bitter twist reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ike's German Jewish fiancee, Malke, turns up. He thought she was dead. So what about Eva? The novel vividly reveals the complex texture of Savannah's thriving Jewish community, its diversity as well as its heroism, but also the clash between Reform and Conservative Jews and the lingering prejudice against African Americans. This stirring, powerful novel never sugarcoats its themes or characters; what emerges is a hard-won realism and a compelling look at one corner of the postwar world.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal "In this amazing novel full of plot twists, Rabb examines true love, fair treatment to people of all races, how to practice honorable journalism, and what it means to be truly alive."
  • Kirkus "Rabb is an accomplished storyteller with an eye for telling detail and for dialogue."
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch "With prose that melds grace with gravitas, full-blooded characters and a story whose joys and sorrows resonate, Rabb creates a novel that asks compelling questions...Each query confronts the reader and requires a thoughtful answer. That rare novel that demands full intellectual and emotional involvement, Among the Living resounds with power and relevance, perception and humanity."
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Effective and chilling."
  • Florida Times-Union "Historical fiction at its best."
  • Atlanta Magazine "Rabb sublimely navigates Yitzhak's desperate search for something resembling the life he'd once known."
  • David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom "Jonathan Rabb is one of my favorite writers, a highly gifted heart-wise storyteller if ever there was one. From its first pages, Among the Living carries you into a particular time and setting, and into the lives of people with whom you are entirely unfamiliar and holds you there with a story that will almost certainly stay with you for years to come. What a powerful, moving book."
  • Geoffrey Fletcher, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Precious "A sensitive and well-observed journey that brings the texture and spirit of its era vividly to life. Rabb's humanistic gaze places Among the Living among the timeless American stories about identity."
  • Alfred Uhry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Driving Miss Daisy "Among the Living is a beautifully written and immensely readable love story. Jonathan Rabb has created an original and penetrating study of Judaism in the deep south and the many forms it takes."
  • Christina Baker Kline, best-selling author of Orphan Train "With a delicate but sure touch, Jonathan Rabb delves into questions of racial identity, religious expression, and cultural assimilation. His is a nuanced and evocative novel, no less readable for its rich complexity."
  • Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography "Among the Living contains multitudes. It's wry and moving, lyrical and direct, historical and timely, Jewish and (above all) American. It's the best book I've read in a while."
  • Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow, A Thread of Grace, and Epitaph "An insightful and evocative antidote to nostalgia about the 'good old days' of America's post-World War II era."
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