Gal Beckerman is an author and journalist. Currently an editor at The New York Times Book Review, he has worked at The Forward and the Columbia Journalism Review and written for many publications, including The Washington Post, New Republic and Wall Street Journal. He is the author of When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone, a history of the Soviet Jewry movement. He can be found on Twitter @galbeckerman
Salt HousesHala Alyan
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review[Alyan’s] book covers four generations of the Yacoub family, starting in 1963 and ending in the present, each chapter from a different perspective. If this sometimes makes the book feel scattered, more like a series of connected set pieces, the long duration has the advantage of illustrating the inherited longing and sense of dislocation passed like a baton from mother to daughter … Only when she goes to Jaffa does she have a cathartic evening that ends with her writing the names of her family members on the wet sand, then watching them quickly erased.
PositiveThe New RepublicAnd there is something contrived—Forrest Gumpish—in the way the character always gives Chabon an opportunity to introduce exciting factoids of 20th century history ... What elevates it all is the figure of Chabon’s grandmother, a charismatic manic depressive whose erratic behavior give[s] the book humanity ... this is a memoir about grandparents that so fully complicates the notion that their lives are the prepackaged, finished objects they always seem to be by the time we encounter them.
Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningTimonthy Snyder
MixedNew RepublicWhen [Snyder] reaches beyond the how—the conditions for mass killing—to the why, the ability to flip morality and kill neighbors, it all seems too clean.
Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier's StoryMatti Friedman
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe collective portrait puts Pumpkinflowers on a par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried — its Israeli analog.
Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the OccupationEd. by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe result is an exhausting collection of essays. And with a few strong exceptions — like the pieces by Dave Eggers, Rachel Kushner and Waldman herself — they are what you might expect: fairly superficial, full of unearned authority and exhibitionist empathy. A parachute job. But maybe because they are impressionistic and repetitive — staring out the window of a moving car at walls and checkpoints and then more walls and checkpoints — the essays do convey something of the state of the occupation at half-century. The accumulation of similar details, deeply etched marks of subjugation, don’t inspire shock and alarm so much as a sense of gray permanence, like watching concrete hardening.