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Noteworthy books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy hardback novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

The Septembers of Shiraz

From the first page, when Revolutionary Guards enter Isaac Amin's office to arrest him, we enter a world of casual brutality where friends can no longer be trusted, and where material comforts that once provided meaning are gone. As an Iranian Jew and gem merchant with slight connections to the Shah, Isaac is an enemy of the state.

In this beautifully written book suffused with human suffering and the longing for love and belonging, Isaac's wife searches for him and regrets her past coldness. His 9-year-old daughter discovers dossiers at a friend's home and hides them. His non-religious son, a student in Brooklyn living with a Hasidic family, wonders what it means to be a Jew.

The Invention of Everything Else

Inventor Nicola Tesla died poor and maligned, but out of his imagination came radio, alternating current, X-rays, and much that made the 20th century go. Hunt's novel tells Tesla's story in a narrative that treats time and point of view unconventionally. Wonders abound, invisible currents exist, and the line between inventiveness and madness isn't clear.

Hunt's characters-Tesla, an old man living in the New Yorker Hotel in 1943; Louisa, a young chambermaid fascinated by the reclusive inventor; her father Walter and his friend Azor, the inventor of a "time machine"; and Arthur, a mysterious man sweet on Louisa-all see beyond the physical world to things unknown, yet undiscovered, or perhaps unreal.

My Enemy's Cradle

For safety, half-Jewish Cyrla goes to live with non-Jewish relatives in Holland. When the Nazis invade, her secret identity puts her at risk. Cyrla's cousin Anneke becomes pregnant by a German soldier and plans to enter a Lebensborn-a German maternity hospital for Aryan babies. Anneke dies before she can enter, so Cyrla (also pregnant) steals her identity and enters the facility.

The rest of the novel plays on the theme of hiding in plain sight. Will the Nazis discover her real identity? Will she be rescued? This is a suspenseful read that brings to life a little-known chapter of history. Quibbles: Cyrla doesn't show huge emotional range, and she voices opinions plucked from today. Caution: sex.

People of the Book

How did the Sarajevo Haggadah, a rare illuminated Jewish book for Passover observance created in 15th-century Spain, come to be? And how did it get to Sarajevo, where a librarian rescued it during the 1990s Bosnian war?

Brooks takes the real facts of the Haggadah and creates a fascinating historical whodunnit. It alternates between the recent past when a brash rare book restorer teases meaning out of clues left in the manuscript-a butterfly wing and drop of blood, salt and a feather-and the more distant pasts, to the lives of the book's various owners and saviors. The history of the book is intertwined with the lives of Muslims, Christians, and Jews at various historical points, and Brooks' novel reads as a plea for tolerance.

Spotlight

Sally Lloyd-Jones' brightly illustrated Old MacNoah Had an Ark (HarperBlessings, 2008) uses the familiar children's song to tell the Bible story. Children will love the chance to sing along and make noise. Peter Sis' The Wall (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007), on the other hand, uses a black, white, and red color palette to tell the author-illustrator's story of growing up under communist oppression. "Everything from the West seems colorful and desirable," he thinks.

Karen Hunt's The Rumpoles and the Barleys and A Picnic with the Barleys (Harvest House, 2008) will remind young readers of Aesop's fable of The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, Beatrix Potter's stories, and maybe even Where the Wild Things Are. Stories of naughty children faced with mild dangers that bring about lessons in thankfulness, courage, and forgiveness are timeless. Hunt's lovely illustrations will make this a favorite even for the youngest children.

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