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.