ALL WHO GO DO NOT RETURN
By Shulem Deen. (Graywolf Press, 320 pages, $16.)
In this painful and elegiac memoir, Shulem Deen, a former Skverer Hasidic Jew from New York City, eloquently describes his agonizing fall from faith and ascendant longing to live in a less insular world than the subculture he grew up in and in which he became a husband and father of five.
The result of his crisis of faith was the loss of his family — in fact, of the whole world he had known and once dearly loved. And yet, it could not have been otherwise, given Deen's questioning intellect and honesty.
While his memoir is set in a small and undeniably suffocating culture few of us will ever experience, his story "of innocence slipping away" will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with doubts and dreams that their family and community cannot accept, and in fact denounce.
Deen is a profoundly intelligent thinker and writer whose sorrow is as deep as that in a sad Psalm. Here's hoping that he can console himself over all he has lost — the worst loss being his children, who have been told that their father is lost and evil — with the faith that his memoir will help many others survive being caught in the merciless and ultimately irreconcilable squeeze between ancient and modern worlds.
West/north metro team leader
BY NIGHT THE MOUNTAIN BURNS
By Juan Tomas Avila Laurel, translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar. (And Other Stories, 275 pages, $15.95.)
On a remote island off West Africa, islanders sing "the most beautiful song in the world" as they struggle to move a half-finished canoe across the bush to the nearest beach.
The island is Annobon and in this hypnotic and slow-moving novel, nothing and everything happens as the islanders wait for "inlander" ships to rescue them from their poverty.
Fish leap on shore, fleeing bigger fish, and squid rush from deep waters onto beaches, a mass expulsion as baffling as it is miraculous. A mob chases and beats a woman. Sailors come to deplete the island's fisheries and, months later, a child is born.
Told from the perspective of an unnamed child narrator, the story loops and repeats, folding over itself and making surprising leaps as the narrator and his brothers and sisters follow the mysterious comings and goings of their silent grandfather.
Annobon is an island of Portuguese Creole speakers off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, Africa's only Spanish-speaking nation. For centuries, the islanders have fought off outsiders, but it has left them isolated and living in deep poverty.
This translation by Jethro Soutar offers a glimpse into the joy and struggle of that isolation.