What was it, Goldah wondered, that was so appealing in the living? What was it he was meant to reclaim?
In 1947, former journalist and concentration camp survivor Yitzhak Goldah comes to Savannah, Georgia to live with his only remaining family; Abe and Pearl Jesler two pillars of local the Conservative Jewish community. As they drive him back to their home they inform him that in order to assimilate better in the States, from now he’ll be known as “Ike” for the general since Yitzhak is too exotic. His identity is fundamentally changed before he even gets out of the car.
Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb (Rosa, The Second Son) tells a story about a man who’s literally been to hell and back and now struggles to rebuild. Significant tensions exist between Conservative and Reform Jews in Savannah; something that seems almost ludicrous to Yitzhak/Ike who no longer even attends service having lost all faith. He becomes entwined with the African-American family who work for the Jeslers with whom he realizes he actually shares a disturbing amount in common; yet he’s considered apart from them and is warned never to be seen shaking hands with a black man in public.
As his identity is split between Yitzhak and Ike his heart becomes torn between lovely young widow Eva (considered forbidden because she’s a Reform Jew) and his old love Malke who’s emerged from the camps physically scarred and emotionally shattered. And if all that isn’t enough Abe’s illicit business dealings brings criminals to Savannah’s sunny streets. Even in the New World senseless violence and brutality cannot be escaped. Rabb weaves a complicated narrative of historical detail and rich psychological insight as Yitzhak/Ike realizes his future path is thornier than he ever imagined.
Among the Living