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Sunday Jews
Calisher, Hortense.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2002]

Physical Description:
694 pages ; 24 cm
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Hortense Calisher has been hailed as "incisive, intricate and fiendishly intelligent" ( The Nation ) and "among the most literate practitioners of modern American fiction" ( Saturday Review ).
In this new novel, Calisher explores a family united in blood yet divided by ideas. The elder son Charles hopes to be a Supreme Court justice; the family beauty Nell has children by different lovers; the art expert Erika has altered her appearance but still insists on being custodian of the family's Jewishness; and Zach, the artist and manipulator, has two wives. The mother of these disparate siblings is Zipporah-Zoe, an academic, infamous in Israel, born of a well-to-do Boston background but no longer rich. She is intellectual, yet bound by memory to the past, a past that never quite dies.
Challenging them is Bert, the grandson, who becomes a rabbi despite his ambivalence toward Jewish institutions. The buried history of their most significant Sunday visitor, Lev, resurfaces when he brings Debra, the young Sabra nurse and war veteran, to them as his wife--and then vanishes.
A compelling family saga that resonates with today's issues of national and religious identity, Sunday Jews is a tour de force from a writer whose fiction has been compared with that of Eudora Welty and Henry James, and whose ability to delineate our lives is unparalleled.

Author Notes

Hortense Calisher, 1911-2009 Author Hortense Calisher was born in Manhattan, New York on December 20, 1911. She graduated from Barnard College in 1932 with a degree in English composition. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a sales clerk, a model, and a social worker. She wrote a total of 23 novels and short story collections during her lifetime including In the Absence of Angels (1951), False Entry (1961), Tale for the Mirror (1962), Textures of Life (1963), The New Yorkers (1969), and Sunday Jews (2002). Her memoir, Herself, an exploration of the intersection between a writer's life and her fiction, was published in 1972. Many of her short works have been anthologized and she is a contributor of short stories, articles and reviews to the New York Times, Harpers and other journals. She also lectured on literature and taught creative writing at several colleges and universities including Columbia University and Bennington College in Vermont. She received four Henry Awards and two Guggenheim Fellowships. She died on January 13, 2009 at the age of 97.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Calisher, Jamesian in style and intent, traces the meshing of inner and outer worlds with voluptuous precision. Truly a grande dame of letters, she remains intrepid, demanding, and indefatigable in her fifteenth novel, a riverine family saga. Its source is the loving marriage of Zipporah Zangwill, a Jewish anthropologist, and her lapsed Catholic philosopher husband, Peter Duffy. Their large and elegant old New York apartment has been home to six children and the scene of ever-swelling Sunday family gatherings as these complicated individuals--some tall and blond, others short and Brillo-haired, some gay, some straight, some artistic, some theological, some professional--extend the family circle with friends, lovers, spouses, and children. Calisher's approach is spiraling rather than linear, and much is conveyed through brilliantly witty conversations performed in scenes as beautifully composed as paintings. Marvelously piquant, Zipporah, the heart of the novel, is fluent in the deep meaning of ritual and family ties, and as she and her colorful progeny make their improvised way in the crazy world, Calisher offers profound reflections on religion, identity, sexuality, age, illness, and our tenacious attachment to life in all its misery and joy. Subtly and incrementally powerful, this phenomenal work astutely illuminates the myriad dualities of existence. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Like Edith Wharton and Henry James, Hortense Calisher finds the drama of fiction as much in the analysis of motive as in the various excitements of action. Her newest novel might be said to have a Wharton-ish feel to it"if, that is, Wharton had written about assimilated Jews rather than status-conscious WASPS. The Jewish family at the center is named, surprisingly, Duffy. Zipporah Zangwill's marriage to Peter Duffy is mixed not because they come from different faiths, but because they disbelieve in different deities"Zipporah in the Jewish God, Peter in the Catholic one. The first third of the book, which is marvelously felt, tracks Peter's mental degeneration. After retiring from the university where he had been a philosopher, Peter becomes absentminded, then feebleminded, and finally physically debilitated. Zipporah, a nonacademic anthropologist and mother of five, takes him to Italy to hide his condition. Zipporah is helped by a mysterious nurse, Debra Cohen, an awesomely cool Israeli sabra who disappears when Peter dies. The novel's middle section portrays Zipporah in the autumn renaissance of her widowhood. She inherits a fortune from her neighbor and friend, Norman, and takes a lover, the mythically wealthy Foxy Mendenhall. Calisher shows Zipporah's five children creeping into a professionally respectable middle age, while their children zoom through their 20s. Zipporah is particularly close to her grandson Bertram, who is waiting for a project to happen. He has studied to be a rabbi, but avoided a post. Ten years after Debra Cohen's vanishing act, Bert finds a clue to her whereabouts and tracks her down in Europe. While Calisher's novel is much too baggy, it is also majestically persistent, with an old-fashioned faith in the novel's ability to make worlds. (May) Forecast: Calisher, now 90, has been writing fiction for a very long time, and this big novel is a crowning achievement. With it, she may break out of the gilded writer's writer prison and gain the attention of a larger public. Regardless, this is a must-have for libraries and fans. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



In her mid-sixties, Zipporah Zangwill, born in Boston to longtime residents of that name, for over forty years married to Peter Duffy, who teaches philosophy in New York, and herself well-known as a "social" anthropologist, has informed her family, a large clan, that from now on she wishes to be known as Zoe-sending out cards to that effect, along with an invitation to a celebratory party.To Peter, who has perhaps been aware of her progress toward some decision that will mortally affect their lives, if not this one, she has merely shown the cards, ordered from the same stationer who had always supplied the formal announcements the years had required: engagements and weddings of the children, anniversaries of all kinds, plus bids to those coveted "theme parties" she threw when some professional or affectionate interest erupted. And of course the two change-of-address announcements, of yore.These newest cards, thinner than any of those and modest in size, say simply "One of our Sundays," giving the date. The time would be known by custom as afternoon, the eats to straggle along with individual noshing, and focus hard as dusk falls. A footnote, lower left, in small but legible print, says: "From now on Zipporah asks to be known as Zoe..." It's not certain whether the reason for the party is this.Few phone to inquire. For some grateful elders in the circle, she is their only fount of surprise. The Duffy children-Gerald, Charles, Nell, Erika, and Zachary, all grown now-do mildly mention it, in no order of age status except whoever had the smarts and the sass to speak up first. They chat constantly, over a sibling network maintained either coast to coast from their homes or now and then from sites no longer as strange as those their mother had all their young lives gone to. Their feeling on her travels had long since been expressed by Mickey, a former youngest son, whose age was fixed, he having died at twelve: "She never really leaves us. And she always comes back."The network isn't kept out of duty. All the Duffys have the kind of family feeling that filches away their attention even from those they are married to. Charles, an academic always somewhere in the middle of the country, is also their median voice. "They're so close a pair. They never skimped us. But it helped us close ranks." His puns, as a part-time lawyer as well as a physicist, make Nell sigh. "A pun should be more illegal, Chuck. But I hear you."Nobody in their immediate family is a naysayer, though Erika tends to marry them. "Maybe Ma just wants to shed her identity. I do now and then."Gerald, who has a wife who does that constantly, keeps quiet.Zach, now the youngest, speaks for all of them. "Hope not."Peter, when shown the cheaper cards, merely quirks: "Wise of you, not to jump to Tiffany.""One hundred sixty-four of them? Would've cost the earth.""Will you tell them why?" He's looking at the footnote.Her answer, with her handsome eyes wide: "I don't have to tell yo Excerpted from Sunday Jews by Hortense Calisher All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.