I read Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer — and left it in Illinois for my mother when I was visiting. She suffers from serious dementia, but expressed excitement about this book and wanted to read it. It’s set in 17th-century Poland — during the aftermath of a catastrophic massacre of the Jews. Messiahs and Devils abound in this book amid the 17th century music Singer has miraculously composed. My mother was born in a similar place in this vicinity. My mother told me her mother died of fear. They were all terribly mad.
Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is one of the most adventurous books I have ever read—a “Holocaust novel” with a particular twist. When I was a child, there had been a lot of talk about a possible Jewish State in the wilderness of Alaska. And suddenly this Jewish State comes alive in Michael Chabon’s feverishly inventive mind, complete with a Jewish Philip Marlowe and a list of horrendous crimes that resembles the design of a diabolic chess master. I fell in love with the novel’s funny, relentless song. I found some of the same music in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a picaresque novel about an impossible future. A father and son wander this bleak landscape, trying to hold onto whatever little humanity they have left. It isn’t easy. They have to fight for some reason to survive. The book reminded me of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where the Mississippi was another kind of road, and Huck and Jim are surrounded by every sort of varmint. But Huck survives through the force of his own poetry, and Jim’s. They form an unbreakable human web. And so do father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s fable about a world gone mad. More from A Year in Reading