- Paperback: 392 pages
- Publisher: Fig Tree Books; Reissue edition (March 17, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1941493009
- ISBN-13: 978-1941493007
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,122,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Prayers for the Living: A Novel Paperback – March 17, 2015
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"It is a pleasure to recommend a novel this good and this wise." Sanford Pinsker, Hadassah Magazine
"Prayers for the Living troubles notions of righteousness and forgiveness, madness, and fate, providing no easy answers while still leaving readers feeling edified. Cheuse’s is a challenging and intelligent novel, replete with beauty and heartbreak, and perhaps even containing a measure of redemption." Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews
"Cheuse’s complex approach to storytelling via conversations, letters, and prayers is so much bigger than a typical narrative, as is this provocative story." Denise Hoover, Booklist Online
"If this morally complex saga of one man's rise and spectacular fall in late 20th century America is typical of the quality of the [new] publisher's titles, its future is promising." Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
"The tragic story...makes for an interesting, intense and unforgettable read.” Caresa Alexander Randall, Deseret News
Praise for Prayers for the Living:
"[Prayers for the Living] deserves to live among the great novels of Jewish American experience. It is a book that bears the weight of something old, yet feels new and utterly alive at the same time." Tova Mirvis, author of The Ladies Auxiliary, The Outside World, and Visible City (from the foreword)
I want the world,’ shouts William Dubin, the biographer-protagonist of Bernard Malamud’s Dubin’s Lives, raging at a life that thinks he should survive without passions. Meet Dubin’s kinsman Manny Bloch, the tormented, cursed hero of this fine novel by Alan Cheuse. At once tender and brutal, unsparing and wise, Prayers for the Living masterfully ventriloquizes not only the voices of Manny and the people he cherishes and destroys, but those of an entire America staring at itself in a cracked mirror.” Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life
A tour de force of voice, character, and psychology from an American master at the height of his powers. Minnie Bloch’s tale of her family’s slow disintegration echoes Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! recast in New York and New Jersey, a search for understanding and meaning amidst the wreckage of a life gone off the rails in pursuit of the American dream.” Christian Kiefer, author of The Animals
"Cheuse enlarges the immigrant tale of aspiration and loss. His narrator, in a lyrically heightened dialect as bold and capacious as the voices of William Faulkner, propels the story toward its conclusion with a dire largeness of scope that deserves the word tragic.'" Robert Pinsky, author of Gulf Music
About the Author
Tova Mirvis, author of the foreword, has published three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her family.
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In the preface, Cheuse notes that he was inspired by a 1970s New York Times story about Eli Black, a rabbi from Long Island who went on to head United Brands until his involvement in an international bribery scheme was uncovered, whereupon he jumped to his death from the roof of a Manhattan office building. Cheuse’s novel may be read as a commentary on the dangerous allure of corporate success, but in the imaginative leaps it takes, Prayers for the Living moves beyond pure realism and reaches for the dazzling heights of spiritual revelation: at a key moment in the book a young Manny has a vision of a pigeon he believes is speaking to him in the voice of his long-dead father, asking if he wants to be rich as well as blessed, and in that moment Manny is transformed, his hair turning “almost completely white.”
Minnie narrates Manny’s story in four parts, Afternoon, Twilight, Evening, and Night, chronicling the breakdown of Manny’s marriage to his wife Maby, his affair with Holocaust survivor Florette, and his tumultuous relationship with his college-age daughter Sarah, later known as Sadie, who, outraged by what she sees as her father’s emotional abandonment, becomes obsessed with destroying everything her father has built. “It’s an old story, darling,” Minnie says at the start of the book, and indeed this is the power of Cheuse’s novel. Manny’s story is a classical tragedy played out in our contemporary era, its twists and turns made all the more poignant because it is told in the unfaltering voice of his mother Minnie, her prayers a plea not just for her son Manny, but for all of humanity in these turbulent times.
As Minnie Bloch and her friend, Mrs. Pinsker, talk, Minnie Bloch relates her son Emmanuel “my Manny” Bloch’s story. A once noted Rabbi and very successful businessman, Manny witnessed his father’s tragic death. This childhood tragedy brought him into contact with the Sporen family who are harboring their own dark secrets. Married to Maby Sporen and following her father’s death, Manny becomes business partners with her brother Mordachai from whom Maby is estranged. An affair with Florette, a congregant and Holocaust survivor, leads to further turmoil in the Bloch household. One final, nuanced tragedy ends Minnie’s tale and leaves the reader feeling numb.
Just as a conversation between two intimate friends would do, the narrative of “Prayers for the Living” ebbs and flows. Moving between the characters’ lives, with asides and comments by Minnie Bloch, the novel is engaging and, at times, tedious. The language, syntax, and attitudes are true to the characters’ origins and age. Developing the novel through Minnie’s biased, but brutally honest observations, Manny and his family become very human. Their flaws and emotions are real. Yet, Minnie never quite lets go and keeps herself involved in the story. “…always the poor mother takes it on her head, and where would they be without her?” and “…They want a reason, they want a mama to clean up after them.” Minnie is not above dramatizing her role in the Bloch family’s turmoil and its impact on her. “…She was tired, she slept. I was weary, I collapsed.”
Divided into four sections – Afternoon, Twilight, Evening, and Night – “Prayers for the Living” is not a novel to one reads quickly. A prayer addressing the primary subject of the section follows each one and emphasizes the progression of Manny Bloch’s adult life. Each heartfelt prayer is thought provoking. Each speaks louder and more poignantly of life, love, and family than does the narrative. Each adds to the reader’s understanding of the characters.
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admiration, leaving me struggling to finish the final hundred pages.Read more