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Book Review: The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman

02.21.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Book of Jonah

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Joshua Max Feldman

Format: Hardcover, 342 pages

Publisher: Bond Street Books

ISBN: 978-0-385-67959-6

Pub Date: February 4, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

The modern-day Jonah at the center of Joshua Max Feldman’s brilliantly conceived retelling of The Book of Jonah is a young Manhattan lawyer named Jonah Jacobstein. He’s a lucky man: healthy and handsome, he has two beautiful women ready to spend the rest of their lives with him, and an enormously successful career that gets more promising by the minute.

He’s celebrating a deal that will surely make him partner when a bizarre, unexpected Biblical vision at a party changes everything.

Hard as he tries to forget what he saw, this disturbing sign is only the first of many Jonah will witness, and before long his life is unrecognizable.

Though this perhaps divine intervention will be responsible for more than one irreversible loss in Jonah’s life, it will also cross his path with that of Judith Bulbrook, an intense, breathtakingly intelligent woman who’s no stranger to loss herself.

As this funny and bold novel moves to Amsterdam and then Las Vegas, Feldman examines the way we live now while asking an age-old question: how do you know if you’re chosen?

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from

The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Book of Jonah, the debut novel by Joshua Max Feldman, is a richly provocative story about the disassembling of one’s life security and agenda, its accumulation of success in various forms, and the inevitable question and role of morality, and the power of faith and change when the two, polar beliefs collide, conflict, and agitate until life itself almost dissolves.

Those who are familiar with the original book of Jonah in the Bible will recognize not only its title, but the thematic similarities between Jonah Jacobstein’s predicament and resistance in this modern, contemporary version and the original text.

The book is wonderfully character-driven filled with fully realized characters that engage the reader in visualizing their superficial and/or naive sensibilities, the magnitude of their personal failings, even their loss.

And because Feldman writes with intelligence and articulate precision, the voice of his characters, especially that of its main character, Jonah Jacobstein, is clear, realistic, and very male in his ambition, rhetoric, denial, and self-doubt.

While Jonah’s life as he recognizes it dissolves into a series of unexplainable visions and bouts of harried panic, Jonah faces the inadequacy of his relationship with the brisk snobbery and self-entitled coldness of his tycoon girlfriend, Sylvia, and the emotionally unstable drama of his long-time love and mistress, Zoey. While both women differ as much as polar opposites do, their extremities pull Jonah in a dishonest and destructive duality, one that is inevitably immoral, exhausting, and unhealthy.

His position as corporate lawyer for a prestigious firm, coerce him to participate in less-than-moral actions when agreeing to take on a case on behalf of the BBEC in a lawsuit against a much smaller, independent business, with the promise of a promotion from “associate” to “partner” should he succeed.

Parallel to this, Judith Bulbrook, raised in the cocoon of privilege and the belief that fulfilment comes from the care and stability of two, loving parents, industrious diligence, and commitment to the power of prestigious academia; she spirals into a harsh darkness of self-destruction in the form of promiscuity and emotional manipulation in answer to dull the horror of her personal loss.

Together they form the requirements of a specially ordained quest, one that moves them to a renewal of some kind of faith; neither devout, nor indifferent, but one that points to introspection, quiet forgiveness, and subtle, conceding acceptance.

The narrative is articulate, tough, and unwavering, as is the theme in the book. And the plot, while well-paced, will readily move the reader along to enjoy the suspenseful outcome of its sporadic visions.

While the narrative surrounding Judith Bulbrook is manic and can successfully bring the reader to its level of wallowing depression, the severity of Jonah’s revelations also cause important and sober retrospection. But, as is the purpose of all spiritual journeys, there is hope of redemptive power, however large or small for both these characters, and potentially some of the other characters in the book.

After all, the honour of hearing God’s message carries with it a burden of testing, which Jonah Jacobstein and Judith Bulbrook both face—and that we all face, no matter our religious or non-religious affiliation.

In The Book of Jonah, the “whale” must have its fill in order that Jonah gets “spat out” to fully realize its life lesson. And we as readers, in coming away from this novel, may also be privileged enough to reconsider and re-learn our own.

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Characters: 4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Bond Street Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

joshua max feldman

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Joshua Max Feldman is a writer of fiction and plays. Born and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts, he has lived in England, New York, and Switzerland. He currently resides in south Florida. The Book of Jonah, his first novel, will be published February 4th, 2014.

– From Goodreads

Links:

You can visit Joshua’s official website.

You can like Joshua on Facebook.

You can follow Joshua on Twitter.

You can be Joshua’s fan on Goodreads.

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How do you think you would react if you received a direct message or vision from God?

If you’ve read the novel, “The Book of Jonah” by Joshua Max Feldman, which was your favourite part? Your favourite character?

Who do you think you most resemble of the fictional characters in “The Book of Jonah?” Jonah, Sylvia, Zoey, Danny, Max, The Colonel, Judith?

How far are you personally willing to go in order to do what’s right? (A good hint at answering this is considering what you would most likely do when no one is looking.)

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Book Review: I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Book Review:

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

06.11.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Anouk Markovits

Format: Hardcover, 308 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67673-1

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

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I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits is an intimate and tender revelation of the private and reverent world of the strict Hasidic sect, the Satmar. This generational story is both a delicate and harsh division in one family whose one polar opposite is deeply rooted in the full conviction of its piety, complete obedience, and practice of its extreme spiritual traditions to the other spectrum of yearning for independence through secularism and modernity.

The narrative is beautifully written, a clear and tender exposition that reads naturally and easily without the difficulty that is sometimes associated with getting through a text. Markovits writes with light lyricism and vulnerable honesty that her characters, though flawed, render the reader deeply empathetic.

Zalman Stern’s character is synonymous with his name, a serious, committed, and devout man of the Torah and the Hasidic law, honouring always its doctrine as the first and foremost priority in his life—or rather, embodying in the best way he can, a lifestyle that is worthy in honouring HaShem.

Hannah is Zalman’s dutiful and honourable wife, a loving and humble matriarch, obedient in accordance to the role of wife and mother in the Satmar community.

But the tension in the novel as well as in the Stern family begins with the gradual disintegration of faith by Atara, daughter of Zalman and Hannah and the further observance and spiritual convictions of Mila, their adopted daughter.

As the two young women make their separate choices between selfless abandon into the faith or the difficult decision to abandon family and its beliefs altogether, the story delves deeper into a territory of which there are no black and white, clear, or simple answers—whether they be from the literal translations of the Torah or the social acceptability and constructs of secularism.

And what is wonderful about this book is its equal grace in sharing the beauty and reverence found in both worlds without judgement of one better than another in pronouncing one way of life as right or wrong. The reader may do that on his or her own, but the book itself does not read as a biased one, which gives its characters the freedom they require to be themselves, wholeheartedly, and without judgement.

It does, however, aim to reveal in its complexity, the capacity that human nature has to surrender itself to its chosen convictions, confusions, and acts of self-preservation.

The story continues in its second generational story between Mila and Josef: how acts of sin are terrorized with love and desperation. The tension between what one feels that he or she is called to do by compulsion of conviction, pure willingness, and spiritual law versus what one desires to do for oneself out of pride and desire—is a taut tightrope in which the lines of division are blurred.

I Am Forbidden is an eloquent, graceful, and dramatic story, which begs the question of how to remain faithful to God, family, community, and oneself without sacrificing one facet over to another. The story is both crisis and redemption in both forms of spirituality and secularism and the burning passion in which they clash and implode.

Anouk Markovits is a gifted storyteller with an acutely aware and sensitive pen.

This is a book that I highly recommend to readers of all faiths inclusive of those who are non-believers in any particular religion for it is more than a story of religious, spiritual dichotomy. It is a beautiful narrative of the capacity and the intrinsic human condition to assert itself in its desire to approach—and sometimes reproach— its relationship to knowledge, love, laws, morality, and its Creator.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Doubleday Canada of Random House Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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Have you ever felt compelled to put God and your faith first before all other things and people?

What are the privileges of a spiritual life ? What do you consider most beautiful about a reverent life for God and faith?

What are and in what circumstances of faith can piety and full abandonment and obedience be difficult—even dangerous?

What is the most important lesson we can learn about ourselves when it comes to understanding and accepting others of different spiritual beliefs, theology, and faith?

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