It is 1998. The old Soviet Union is dead, and the new Russia is awash in corruption and despair. Manya and Yuri Zalinikov, secular Jews -- he, a gifted mathematician recently dismissed from the Academy; she, a talented concert pianist -- sell black market electronics in a market stall, until threatened with a gun by a mafioso in search of protection money. Yuri sinks into a Chekhovian melancholy, emerging to announce that he wants to "live as a Jew" in Israel. Manya and their daughter, Galina, are desolate, asking, "How does one do that, and why?"
And thus begins their odyssey -- part tragedy, part comedy, always surprising. Struggling against loneliness, language, and danger, in a place Manya calls "more cousin's club than country," Yuri finds a Talmudic teacher equally addicted to religion and luxury; Manya finds a job playing the piano at The White Nights supper club, owned by a wealthy, flamboyant Russian with a murky history, who offers lust disguised as love. Galina, enrolled at Hebrew University, finds dance clubs and pizza emporiums and a string of young men, one of whom Manya hopes will save her from the Israeli Army by marrying her.
Against a potpourri of marriage wigs, matchmaking television shows, disastrous investment schemes, and a suicide bombing, the Zalinikovs confront the thin line between religious faith and skepticism, as they try to answer: What does it mean to be fully human, what does it mean to be Jewish? And what role in all of this does the mazel gene play?
About the Author
Rochelle Distelheim's writing has been awarded the Gival Press Short Story Competition Prize, the Katharine Anne Porter Prize, the SALAMANDER Second Prize, numerous Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, and a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. Her work has been nominated several times for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories anthology, and she was a finalist in the GLIMMER TRAIN Emerging Writers Competition and the Pushcart Prize. JERUSALEM AS A SECOND LANGUAGE has received both the William Faulkner Gold Medal for Novel-in-Progress and the William Faulkner Gold Medal for Novel. Rochelle's debut novel, SADIE IN LOVE, was published in 2018.