Among the Living

by Jonathan Rabb

Overview: A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor’s unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia.

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives–distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers’ dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak’s past suddenly appears–one who is even more shattered by the war than he is–Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life.

Set amid the backdrop of America’s postwar south, Among the Livinggrapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak’s story within the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. That he begins to find echoes of his recent past in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers–an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves–both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might think.

Debbie Weiss (06/30/17): Faith and Judy already described the issues addressed in Among the Living in their reviews and I agree that this was an interesting read and that the author made sure to cover a variety of topics. While nobody can really understand the inner thoughts of a Holocaust survivor, I felt that the depiction of Yitzhak's new life in the American South was realistic and not idealized. I was intrigued by the ill-will between the two groups of Jewish immigrants in Savannah, the more affluent and less religious people did not always see eye-to-eye with the less affluent and more religious individiduals. This was something that Yitzhak did not understand. Wasn't a Jewish person a Jewish person --- especially after all he suffered because he was Jewish. An interesting question...
Rating: ***+

Judy Stanton (06/29/17): Having read many Holocaust books, I enjoyed this unusual take, focusing on post-Holocaust life in a new country. I thought the author did take on quite a few relations; conservative/reform Jewish relationships; "Americanizing" Holocaust survivors; and the issue at the core of the does a survivor who has found a new life and a new love deal with a pre-Holocaust relationship when a person thought to be lost is suddenly found, alive! I enjoyed Rabb's characters, especially Ike, and wanted to continue to read to see how the dilemmas that faced him were resolved. I thought it made a good book club discussion. 4-
Rating: ****-

Faith Bowers (04/02/17): A Holocaust surviver lands in Savannah GA in 1947 amidst the dichotomy of Southern Jews. You learn most about Yitzhak Goldah and how he survived. At some times it is funny to see the southern Jewish way of life from an outsider's point of view. Rabb grabs you and so I was able to involve myself in the book immediately and really didn’t put it down until I finished. This southern Jewish way of life no longer exists so I glimpsing into this time period was informative. He jam packed it with all the issues as to why this way of life disappeared and included the romance formula to make for a quick, not literary but enjoyable read.
Rating: ***

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