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by Sharon Chisvin, September 19, 2010

I recently finished reading two very good novels, both of them about Jewish men and their relationships with their distant fathers, emotional mothers, angry wives, and selfish siblings; both of them about identity crisis and the search for love, peace, contentment and a place to call home. Yet, for all their similar themes, the two novels could not have been more different.

It is hard to imagine that a novel about four siblings sitting shiva for their father could be laugh-out-loud funny, but that is truly the best way to describe American author Jonathan Tropper’s new work of fiction. This Is Where I Leave You, published by Dutton Books, follows the trials and tribulations of recently separated thirtysomething Judd Foxman from the moment he learns of his father’s not unexpected death to the end of the seven day period of mourning.

The shiva marks the first time in years that Judd, his brothers and sister, and their mother are spending time together for an extended period of time, and this forced togetherness naturally leads to the airing of grievances, old grudges and jealousies, and a few tender family moments as well. 

Tropper is clever, funny, astute, observant, and truly understands the nature of family and the feelings of jealousy, obligation, guilt, resentment and heartbreak that sometimes accompany the love. I have not read any of Tropper’s earlier novels, but after devouring this one in just two days, I certainly will.

Celebrated Israeli author Meir Shalev’s novel, A Pigeon and a Boy, translated from the Hebrew and published by Schocken Books back in 2007, is much different in tone. It is a somber, sad, hopeful and deeply moving work of fiction that is set in Israel and effortlessly moves back and forth between two eras, two men, and two stories.

The first narrative is about a pigeon handler, a young man nicknamed the Baby, who grows up on kibbutz with his aunt and uncle and joins the Palmach on the eve of Israel’s War of Independence. The second is the story of Yair Mendelsohn, a middle-aged tour guide living in modern day Tel-Aviv. Yair is mired in an unhappy marriage, disillusioned with his work, mourning the recent death of his mother, and utterly fascinated by accounts of the Baby and his homing pigeons.

Both stories are about family, love, memory, history and home. Both are beautifully told and connect one to the other in a most surprising way. 


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