Tuesday, May 25, 2010

REVIEW: Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, by Maxim D. Shrayer

Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, by Maxim D. Shrayer. Published 2009 by Syracuse University Press. Literary Fiction. Short stories.

Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, Maxim D. Shrayer's collection of short stories, was yet another impulse purchase from one of my favorite local indie bookstores, Porter Square Books, and just the sort of slightly unusual, idiosyncratic thing I look for in indie bookstores.

Shrayer, a professor at Boston College, is local to the Boston area and this collection of eight stories, many set in or around college campuses, uses various kinds of love stories to cover themes of identity, immigration and religion. Interfaith relationships figure prominently in these stories as various Russian Jewish characters try to figure out where they fit in America. My favorite story, "The Disappearance of Zalman," about a young man experiencing problems with his non-Jewish girlfriend while at the same time learning Hebrew with a young Hasid by the name of Zalman, ends with a surprising twist; others, like "Horse Country" and the titular story "Yom Kippur in Amsterdam" have a mystical quality. "Sonetchka" and "Last August in Biarritz" are darker and more violent.

I liked Shrayer's careful, detailed writing and emphasis on character over plot in much of the book. At least, having finished it, the characters have stayed with me more than what happens to them. I think this is a great collection for the reader of literary fiction and readers of Jewish fiction and books on the Russian-Jewish experience in America will certainly want to add it to their TBR pile. It fits in nicely with other recent collections such as Sana Krasikov's award-winning One More Year and Ellen Litman's wonderful and under-appreciated The Last Chicken in America. Like Litman's book, Shrayer's takes place almost entirely in the United States and although the stories don't focus on the same characters the way hers does, the stories fit together nicely and I almost felt like I was reading a novel in stories even though I really wasn't. It's a very thoughtful, satisfying read and one I'm glad to have pulled off the shelf.

Click here for my interview with Dr. Shrayer.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


....Petty Witter said...

Not a fan of short stories, I'm always on the look out for collections that will change my mind - perhaps I have just found such a colllection. Thanks for sharing this with us,

Zibilee said...

I am also looking for a good short story collection, and this one strikes my fancy because it is pretty character driven. Not many short stories out there like that. I loved this review and will be more closely investigating this book. Thanks for the insightful thoughts about this one!!

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds like a good book, even if I am not a fan of short stories, it depends on the author

Kathleen said...

I'd love a good collection of short stories and would like to read some Jewish fiction. Everyday I go to the JCC in my area to use the work out facilities. They have several reading groups there and usually have posters advertising what they are reading. I've not read any of the books and have been feeling left out and also a bit guilty for not participating more! At least if I add this one to my TBR I will feel a little better!

jewwishes said...

I will definitely check this book out, and most likely buy it.

Your review has my interest piqued, for sure.

Mystica said...

I dont think I've read any Jewish fiction so this should be a good start. thank you for highlighting.

naida said...

I do enjoy short stores, and this sounds interesting especially the ones dealing with Interfaith relationships. My husband and I are different religions.
Great review!