A groundbreaking Jewish feminist short story collection.
Short story collections focusing on Jewish writers have—no surprise—typically given women authors short shrift. This new volume represents the best Jewish feminist fiction published in Lilith magazine, and does what no other collection has done before in its geographic scope, its inclusion of twenty-first-century stories, and its Jewish feminist focus.
This collection showcases a wide range of stories offering variegated cultures and contexts and points of view: Persian Jews; a Biblical matriarch; an Ethiopian mother in modern Israel; suburban American teens; Eastern European academics; a sexual questioner; a Jew by choice; a new immigrant escaping her Lower East Side sweatshop; a Black Jewish marcher for justice; in Vichy France, a toddler’s mother hiding out; and more.
Organized by theme, the stories in this book emphasize a breadth of content, and our hope is that in reading you’ll appreciate the liveliness of the burgeoning self-awareness brought to life in each tale, and the occasional funny, call-your-friend-and-tell-her-about-it moment. Skip around, encounter an author whose other work you may know, be enticed by a title, or an opening line. We hope you’ll find both pleasure and enlightenment—and sometimes revelation—within these pages.
“Original, entertaining, thought-provoking, Frankly Feminist: Short Stories by Jewish Women from Lilith Magazine will prove to be of special appeal to readers with an interest in Jewish themed literature and short story fiction.”
Midwest Book Review
Manon Peren swallowed hard. The taste of stale bread filled her mouth, an ache that reminded her of flowers and the smell of baking bread in a Montmartre bakery in the spring. Fifteen years old, she dreamed of foamy milk and pastries, with neither to enjoy. Over the scent of bougainvillea from the open window, the air reeked of burnt toast from her attempts to make a birthday cake by melting preserved cheese over bits of bread. Back in Paris, she’d have set the elaborate triple burners on high. But this apartment—tucked away beside the Promenade des Anglais, near the Cours Saleya in the old town—only had a single burner, and no salt or olives, or anything for spice. Reeking of strangers and homesickness, the place felt like a foreign landscape, constructed from someone else’s clothes, dusty furniture, and well-used pots and pans.
A light on the boulevard flashed off and on. In each flash: her father’s wide silhouette. That low-brimmed hat covering his eyes. That inner energy that, no matter his pace, followed him. Three weeks back, soldiers had taken him to a Besancon work camp, leaving her weeping, her mother sleepless at the doorway till dawn. They said—lies, she knew—he’d be back.
At least they’d left Paris. Her grandmother had heard the rumors at her Embassy job.
Nine at night. Her grandmother stood to clean their cups of hot water, not complaining about the lack of tea; a silence that struck Manon as sad. For years, complaining had been her grandmother’s way of showing she was alive. Her mother, beside her, had lit a single short-wicked candle. It flamed on the table, weaker than their candles in their Montmartre apartment.
A knock on the front door. Her aunt Ava. One quick rap. With piled dark curls, wire-framed glasses, and a stare like a wintry bird’s, Ava spoke in a way that implied constant drama. A dancer, she’d owned a salon on the rue de Miromesnil. Until the Occupation, she’d welcomed all manner of high society, in smoky salons that had lasted well into the night. Manon had been the youngest invited. To her mother’s horror, she’d dressed up and gone out most weeks.
Relieved at the distraction, Manon stood and walked over. Blood rushed to her head.
“I’ve got news,” Ava said, in a stage whisper. She hurried in, smelling of sweat and oranges. Her loose shirt and pants gave her a slovenly look. Back in Paris, she’d prided herself on her ironing skills. Her mother stumbled forward, and the two embraced clumsily.
“My father?” Manon asked, at the same moment as Ava exclaimed, “Matisse.”
“Matisse?” Manon fumbled on the name. Breath short, she clutched the pilled dishtowel. Each vertebra fired up in her back. Matisse. Who hadn’t heard of him? Living in Cimiez, outside of Nice, high on a hill at the magisterial Hotel Regina. In his seventies at least. An international celebrity. Six months back, she’d studied his paintings. In her stuffy classroom, her teacher had passed the book through the rows, exclaiming at the power of those images. Such wild-bodied dancers, limbs packed with movement, like branches on windblown trees.
“He’s wanting a substitute model,” Ava said, taking the dishtowel with a nervous energy. The air filled with the clack of her nails. “My gallerist friend called with the details. He’s looking for someone delicate, not too practiced, with a soft face. Someone patient, discreet.”
“I’m sure a man like him doesn’t want for models,” her mother said.
“You’d be surprised.” Ava wrung out the dishtowel. “Princess Nezy, his old model, turned twenty and got married. She went on a honeymoon, then returned, too sick to pose.”