My Favorite Jewish Fiction

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I recommend LadyMeritaten’s blog, Jewish Books are Awesome. It’s one of my sources for new reading. This past week she re-posted a list of 100 Must-Read Works of Jewish Fiction from, and I’m happy to say it gave me some leads on books I haven’t read. It also gave me the idea for this post.

My favorite Jewish fiction includes some books from the BookRiot list, and some that I guess they don’t think are “must-read.” Anyhow, here they are for your enjoyment, in a completely random order. All are available in English.

If there’s a book you love that isn’t here, I hope you’ll share it in the comments.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon – An alternative history and murder mystery that is the best argument for the existence of the State of Israel that you’ll ever read.

The Trial of God by Elie Wiesel – Where is God when terrible things happen?

The Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur – This is the first in a series of mystery novels set in Israel. Even though they were written back in the 1990’s, they will do more to give you a feeling of ordinary Israeli life than anything else I know.

Rashi’s Daughters by Maggie Anton – A trilogy of historical novels by scholar Maggie Anton. Engaging and learned, in that order.

The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow – A story about the Red Scare and the Cold War. Has chilling resonance today.

As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg – A story based on Talmudic texts about a privileged young man who studies Torah and loses his way. It’s great for getting a feel for the world of the Talmud, but know that in the texts, the story ends differently.

The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart – my candidate for Best Holocaust Novel ever.

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman – A story about a small community in upstate New York, where year-round residents and summer people live in tension.

Enemies: A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer – I love movies, but there is more nuance in one page of this novel than in the movie. A wry and funny story from the great Ashkenazi storyteller.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok – A book about Orthodox life in Brooklyn. If you use the phrase “the Orthodox…” in your speech as if Orthodoxy were a monolith, you must read this.

Septimania by Jonathan Levi – A novel of time and place and being. Not everyone will like it, but I loved it.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – A weird little book about inadequacy and self-loathing, one of the most influential books of the 20th century. Also very, very Jewish.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud – A Baseball Novel! And no, seeing the movie doesn’t count. Read the book.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran – Dark, funny, a travelogue, a journey without and within. A true post-Holocaust novel.

I am sure I’ve forgotten some wonderful books. I’m also sure that you have some wonderful books to suggest. Comments, please!











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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

27 thoughts on “My Favorite Jewish Fiction”

  1. God’s Grace by Bernard Malamud is quite interesting and is apocalyptic in nature, plus My Name is Asher Lev, another wonderful novel by Chaim Potok.

    1. I’m not familiar with that Malamud book – another to add to my list. Almost anything by Potok is wonderful, including his history Wanderings. Thanks!

  2. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth (novel – semi-autobiographical)
    What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander (short stories)
    The Un-Americans by Molly Antopol (short stories)

    1. Wonderful. AMAZON Rev{When Henry Roth published his debut novel Call It Sleep in 1934, it was greeted with considerable critical acclaim though, in those troubled times, lackluster sales. Only with its paperback publication thirty years later did this novel receive the recognition it deserves―–and still enjoys. Having sold-to-date millions of copies worldwide, Call It Sleep is the magnificent story of David Schearl, the “dangerously imaginative” child coming of age in the slums of New York.

    1. Super Sad True Love Story reminded me of 1984 for the current generation. It is so possible that it’s scary. I recommend it to people because it won’t get out of my head!

  3. There’s a French book that was translated to English. I read it as a teen and I could never forget it. It’s more of a thriller but the main character is a Jewish woman who is put into the camps. The English title is Return from the Ashes, by Hubert Monteilhet. I hadn’t thought of it in years but I saw that the French have made a film – taking some liberties with the orginal story – and I want to see that film! It’s called Phoenix and was made in 2014. It stars Nina Hoss.

  4. I loved The Secret Book of Grazia de Rossi by Jacqueline Park. And almost anything by Philip Roth.

    1. Yes!!!!! You recommended that to me a while back, and I’d forgotten it. Thank you for the memory jog.

      Philip Roth – maybe I should give him another try. I find him so aggravating.

  5. this is a wonderful list: so many books, too little time. I just finished ‘As a Driven Leaf’ and found it very readable and eye-opening. I like it when someone fleshes out and makes alive a time of history that seems only 2 dimensional. The blog suggestions are great as well, thanks.

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