𝑲𝒊𝒓𝒌𝒖𝒔 𝑹𝒆𝒗𝒊𝒆𝒘𝒔 𝑩𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝑩𝒐𝒐𝒌𝒔 𝒐𝒇 2023:TRUE STORIES OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL THEATER BY S. Yerucham ‧ RELEASE DATE: JAN. 10, 2023 A brilliantly written nonfiction account of a man’s search for meaning in the odd picaresque of his life.Yerucham’s memoir chronicles sex, drugs, madness, and spiritual questing.The author revisits his life from 1981 to 2022, starting with his move from Wyoming to New York City at the age of 18 to be a writer. Yerucham had to make a living, and the book opens with his stint working at the City Lights Bar in the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center, characterized by the author as a hothouse of grizzled immigrant bartenders, gay waiters, and atmospheric jazz. Dead-end security jobs followed, along with a marriage (at the age of 21) to Gabriella, which slowly unraveled due to incompatibility, ill-advised polyamorous adventures, enervating pot-smoking, and mental illnesses (suffered by both Yerucham and Gabriella) that culminated in the author’s hospitalization in Bellevue’s psych ward for near-catatonic depression. Fleeing New York, Yerucham regrouped while working on a Wyoming ranch, then embarked on meth-fueled wanderings through the West that featured flophouses, homelessness, and a death march in the Mexican desert. After another unsuccessful attempt to establish himself in New York, the author lit out for India, where he studied at ashrams, steeped himself in meditative yoga and Jain philosophy, and met the Dalai Lama, who “received [him]…with a handshake and a painful fixed promotional grin, and displayed a hollowed deep sadness in his eyes.” A six-month detour to Israel reconnected him with his Orthodox Jewish roots; he then returned to India before moving on to Malaysia and finally to Thailand. While nourishing his soul he was also looking for a wife, which resulted in quixotic relationships with a German ashram tourist (who turned out to be gay) and a Chinese woman in Malaysia. He finally married a Siamese woman and tussled with the United States immigration bureaucracy to get her and their daughter to California.Yerucham’s narrative rambles through many labyrinthine twists and digressions, often with no clear destination in sight; along the way, he invokes philosophers from Socrates to Sartre to glean nuggets of wisdom from his misadventures (“Suffering is the fire that burns the debris of past foolishness from the mind….From the furnace of suffering, I gathered charred relics of goodness from the remains of the mess of my twenties, and began piecing them together”). It’s a baggy, sprawling saga, but even at nearly 800 pages, it never grows tiresome thanks to the extraordinary quality of the writing. Endlessly curious and sympathetic, the author renders the parade of people he meets in subtle, evocative colors (“Dew entered wearing a simple and clean homemade dress, and exhibited a face which, in contrast to her previous innocent chipmunk face, was that of a lovelier suave mature woman, but cool and cunning and stately”)—and sometimes takes on a gonzo, hallucinatory quality worthy of Hunter S. Thompson (“He gave his best performance as devil’s right-hand man with his odd attractive laugh, mad grin, and head with high bony cheeks mounted like an idol atop his skeletal body. Roasting in the heat, he looked as if he’d been hammered and bronzed in hell furnaces for centuries”). Going everywhere yet getting nowhere, Yerucham’s journey makes for a fascinating read.A brilliantly written nonfiction account of a man’s search for meaning in the odd picaresque of his life.Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023ISBN: 9781669857310Page Count: 792Publisher: XlibrisUSReview Posted Online: June 13, 2023Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023
𝘒𝘪𝘳𝘬𝘶𝘴 𝘙𝘦𝘷𝘪𝘦𝘸𝘴 𝘉𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 𝘰𝘧 2023
Indieland sees many books on Jewish philosophy, cooking, history, and culture. These four starred books—three nonfiction and one fiction—explore different facets of Jewish life, including wanderlust and visiting the homeland, finding solace and wisdom in Jewish texts, the reticence of Holocaust survivors, and using superpowers to evade Nazis.
S. Yerucham chronicles his experiences with sex, drugs, mental illness, globe-trotting, and spirituality in True Stories of the Philosophical Theater (2023). He worked on a ranch in Wyoming, which led to a meth-addled tour of the West; studied at ashrams in India, where he meditated and met the Dalai Lama; visited Israel to reconnect with his Orthodox Jewish roots. Our reviewer says the memoir “sometimes takes on a gonzo, hallucinatory quality worthy of Hunter S. Thompson (‘He gave his best performance as devil’s right-hand man with his odd attractive laugh, mad grin, and head with high bony cheeks mounted like an idol atop his skeletal body. Roasting in the heat, he looked as if he’d been hammered and bronzed in hell furnaces for centuries’). Going everywhere yet getting nowhere, Yerucham’s journey makes for a fascinating read.”
The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey (2023) guides mourners through their first year of loss. Editor Lisa D. Grant, the director of the New York rabbinical program of Hebrew Union College, cites materials from various sources, including songs and poems from lay liturgist and poet Alden Solovy, Hebrew poems by Zelda and Rivka Miriam, and writings from Rumi and e.e. cummings. Our reviewer says, “The themes explored in each unit, from pain and brokenness to acceptance and gratitude, have the potential to engage other audiences” and notes the guide is a “welcome resource for making the journey through loss.”
The Jewish Hungarian parents of author Janet Horvath, a cellist, didn’t talk much about how they survived the Holocaust. In The Cello Still Sings: A Generational Story of the Holocaust and of the Transformative Power of Music (2023), Horvath writes about caring for her elderly parents and making an incredible, late-in-life discovery. In 1948, her father, also a cellist, played in an orchestra of Holocaust survivors in Landsberg, Germany, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. “Horvath’s prose is lyrical (‘Consider a time when hell was on earth, when hands accustomed to a musician’s bow, a writer’s pen, a doctor’s scalpel, a painter’s brush, a tailor’s needle, wielded shovelfuls of rocks, limestone, or human remains’) and brutally honest as she explores how trauma leads to complex dynamics,” says our reviewer. “In a world in which antisemitism is on the rise, Horvath’s story—equal parts disturbing and inspiring—is necessary and timely reading.”
David Michael Slater’s YA novel The Vanishing (2022) tells the story of young Sophie Siegel living in a small German town in 1940. Nazis break into her home and murder her family, but when they find her hiding spot, they can’t see her. While being invisible doesn’t make her invincible, it does allow her the freedom to move about and organize a resistance. Our review calls The Vanishing a “tense and spellbindingly gripping fantasy meditation on the horrors of the Holocaust.”
Karen Schechner is the president of Kirkus Indie.