Among The Living by Jonathan Rabb, Published October 4th 2016 by Other Press
“He had worked his way back to food, real food, with taste and texture and heat, and while his stomach had learned to reaccommodate it, the rest of him was having more difficulty. There were any number of reasons for it – obvious reasons such as memory and shame – but the simplest was that to savor a plate was to recognize his own worth and that was something not so easily restored.”
― Jonathan Rabb,
Yitzhak Goldah (Ike) is a Holocaust survivor who travels to Savannah in 1947 to live with his distant cousins, Abe and Pearl Jesler. As a trained journalist, Ike is a quiet observer who is adjusting to life in America after experiencing the worst of humanity. As he is welcomed into the Jewish community, he becomes aware of a divide between Savannah’s Reform and Conservative Jewish congregations. The Jeslers are Conservative, but that doesn’t stop Ike from falling in love with a Reform Jewish woman. Ike also struggles with the social norms regarding the treatment of African Americans in the South during Jim Crow.
I picked this book up and read the synopsis, because it was brand new in our library, and was immediately interested in reading it. I don’t think I can call myself a Historian since I haven’t really utilized my history degree, but military history was always my favorite and Jonathan Rabb decided to take a fresh perspective on the Holocaust by giving us some understanding into the life of a survivor after the war.
Rabb gives us insight into the life of a man who is struggling to accept love and the mistreatment of another group of people after experiencing one of the most horrific events in history. His approach felt very authentic, as the characters where very cautious of the language they used and the positions they put Ike into. It was hard to read sometimes because you could feel the loneliness and solemnity, but that’s the reason it is such a great book!
I do wish that Rabb had gone into more depth concerning the relationships between the two denominations of Jews as well as the Jewish community and the African Americans during this time. I felt like he would begin to elaborate more on this and then slip back into an unnecessary story line concerning Abe Jessler and some illegal business with his shoe store, which, in my opinion, never really reached a full conclusion. This book may feel slow paced, but I found it to be quite wonderful! It may not have enough excitement to appeal to some readers, but it was extremely fulfilling and beautifully written!