Jerusalem As a Second Language: A Celebration of Writer Rochelle Distelheim

Our release party for Rochelle Distelheim's wonderful novel Sadie in Love in 2018 was one of the largest in-person events we have ever hosted in the store--you could simply have not fit another person into our event space. After a long and full life, Rochelle passed away in June of this year, but her legacy lives on, in her work and her family. We are so proud to help introduce her new novel, Jerusalem as a Second Language, with an online a program featuring family and fellow writers. This time, because it will be a virtual event, everyone gets a seat. To receive the registration info for our free Crowdcast event, please email events@thebookstall.com.

This event is co-sponsored by our friends at The Standard Club!

About the Book:  In 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 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?

Elizabeth Wetmore, author of Valentine says, "Quick on the heels of her smart, charming, and deeply humane novel Sadie in Love , Rochelle Distelheim's Jerusalem as a Second Language introduces her devoted readers to a whole new cast of displaced characters. As secular Jews who have fled to Jerusalem from an increasingly corrupt and dangerous Russia, the Zalinikov family struggles against displacement, loneliness, and danger in a country that is as strange to them as it is compelling. Simultaneously tender and steely-eyed, often funny, and occasionally sorrowful, Distelheim's elegant prose plucks at the heart of what it means to be a family at odds with their new country, and with each other."

A review in The Foreward declares, "Distelheim is variously incisive, funny, and poetic in approaching questions of religious practice and resistance. Her heroine, forced to learn Hebrew, remarks that it “fell from my lips more hiss than song” and regards religion as other: “somebody’s personal translation of the meaning of the universe wrapped up in fancy language [and] repeated numerous times with conviction.” But love, and faith in her relationships, compel Manya, and the novel, forward, making Jerusalem as a Second Language a sensitive novel about how religiosity is adapted in liminal spaces."

About Rochelle Distelheim: A west side of Chicago native and long-time Highland Park resident, Rochelle graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and, after receiving her Masters Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, taught creative writing at Mundelein College. Her short fiction received numerous awards and was published widely in literary journals and anthologies. Her debut novel, Sadie in Love, was published in 2018, when she was ninety. Jerusalem as a Second Language received both the William Faulkner Gold Medal for Novel-in-Progress and the William Faulkner Gold Medal for Novel. 

Event date: 

Sunday, October 4, 2020 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Event address: 

Online Crowdcast event!
Jerusalem as a Second Language Cover Image
$19.95
ISBN: 9781951547066
Availability: On Our Shelves Now--Subject to Availability
Published: Aubade Publishing - September 29th, 2020

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.