Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How This Night is Different, by Elisa Albert

It's almost here. The cleaning, the shopping, the endless preparation of special foods has begun. Can you tell I'm not quite in the spirit yet? I don't hate Passover, but I do hate the prep. Passover is actually my second favorite holiday (Sukkot coming in first) and when all is said and done, all the eggs hard-boiled, all the briskets sliced, and matzah balls molded, I enjoy it immensely. The moment the curled parsley leaves, dripping with salt water, hit my tongue, the magic of the holiday immediately transports me; winter becomes spring. But still, did G-d have to require such a crazy amount of effort for us to celebrate our freedom? How about some freedom from the meticulous cleaning and hours upon hours of food preparation? How about, "Let my people -- meaning us women, of course -- go -- out of the kitchen!

Okay. It's an old joke. Like all things funny, though, it rings true. Such is also the case with How This Night is Different. The Jewish characters in these stories and the uniquely Jewish situations they find themselves traversing are all spot-on. How could I not think of this great story collection, replete with a Maneschewitz bottle on the cover, this time of year?

Here's the thing: I am not usually a fan of short stories. I know this is not a trendy, enlightened literary opinion, but the limited length of the form, and -- to be honest -- the style in which a lot of the short stories I have sampled are written just hasn't grabbed me. I need to feel a strong connection with the characters, and maybe it's easier for a writer to fully and believably develop a character in the longer form of a novel. Or, then again, maybe it's just me.

I haven't looked at How This Night is Different since it first came out in 2008, but I'm putting it back on my library request list. Now if I could only get out of the kitchen long enough to read it again....

Postscript One:
For those dog-tired of the jam-sweet kosher wines.... Blessed juice: Your guide to great kosher wines

Postscript Two:
A few weeks ago I posted a review of Christian Lander's Stuff White People Like, a tongue in cheek description of the tastes of us white folk. A recent article in Salon discusses Nell Painter's new book, The History of White People, which explores this subject from a scholarly point of view. Two fascinating facts I gleaned from the article: the whole idea of the white race is actually a social construct; and, the slaves in ancient Rome were white-skinned. This world we live in constantly amazes me; how could anyone ever get bored?

"The History of White People": What it means to be white

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