Nov. 11, 2007

At American Jewish University's Celebration of Jewish Books Sunday, I catch lectures by Gina Nahai, Ellen Feldman and Judith Viorst.

Viorst talks about her son and daughter-in-law moving in for three months with their three kids. One of the kids asked Judith about the wrinkles on her arm and, "Will you die soon?"

Thirteen hundred people bought tickets in advance and another 1,000 people showed up despite the rain.

Whatever Gady Levy does, he does it first-rate.

The first lecture I catch is by Nahai.

She's younger and hotter than I expected. She has shiny brown hair and that killer body possessed by most Persian women I know.

No wonder we marry them instead of dragging them behind trucks.

I've always wanted to marry a Persian Jewess. Now that I'm a haggard 41, I'll settle for dating one.

They all seem to have curves in the right places and they age at least as well as the Orientals.

Nahai's mother is in the audience and I keep looking over at her during the lecture.

Towards the end of the session, I ask Gina: "Where does the writer stand in the Persian-Jewish social pecking order?"

Gina: "In the basement... It's such a new phenomenon. Publisher's Weekly asked me to write about the surge of Iranian authors... I laughed... When my first book came out...nobody had heard of Iranian Jews. The manager of Brentanos in Century City didn't know where to put it. So she put it in Judaica."

"There are so few of us, I don't think we've been categorized yet in the social pecking order."

Nahai writes in the Nov. 9 Jewish Journal:

If you grew up as I did, on more than one continent and surrounded by people of different faiths, you know what I mean when I say I've never had real heroes: For every truth in one place, I've encountered doubt in another; for every icon in one culture, I've met iconoclasts in another.

As I look back, I realize that the only public figures I have admired and perhaps trusted were authors -- those authors, that is, who wrote about the time and place they lived in, whose purpose was to discover the truth, bear witness, unveil secrets, no matter what the cost to themselves or others. Most of these authors -- Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, Oriana Fallaci -- lived through World War II. Most of them explored the mysteries of the human soul -- how it's at once capable of great kindness and unspeakable cruelty, how it tends to shy away from taking ownership of its sins.

Among them, of course, was Gunter Grass, Germany's greatest author since World War II, who wrote "The Tin Drum" and a dozen other books; who has dedicated his career and his public life to exposing the dark corners of his nation's psyche, making sure it doesn't forget, doesn't rationalize, minimize or move on from -- the Holocaust.