From Israeli Moon Missions and Muslim Rivalries to Mossad Ops: 9 Books to Look Out for in 2020

Nine books worthy of your consideration this year, including a novel about grieving Israeli and Palestinian fathers, and a tome celebrating Jewish genius (and anxiety)

Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
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Clockwise from top left: A woman marching in Paris after the brutal killing of Ilan Halimi in 2006, "Apeirogon," "Black Wave," A.B. Yehoshua, "House of Glass" and "The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine."
Clockwise from top left: A woman marching in Paris after the brutal 2006 killing of Ilan Halimi, "Apeirogon," "Black Wave," A.B. Yehoshua, "House of Glass" and "The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine."Credit: AP / Henry Holt and Co / Random House / Ariel Allinson / Simon & Schuster / Metropolitan Books
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

In his final published book “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” Stephen Hawking wrote that if “you stacked the new books being published next to each other, at the present rate of production you would have to move at 90 miles an hour just to keep up with the end of the line.”

In other words, reports of the death of the publishing industry have been greatly exaggerated. Over 300,000 books were released in the United States alone in 2013 (the last known figure, compiled by UNESCO), while some 675 million books were sold there in 2018. Even more remarkably, some of them weren’t actually purchased on Amazon.

Here are nine releases to consider for your bookcase or e-reader in 2020.

‘Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847–1947’

"Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847–1947"Credit: Scribner

The writer Norman Lebrecht is best known for his musings on classical music, most notably on his Slipped Disc blog. But the British commentator has also written several novels (his “The Song of Names” was just turned into a movie with Clive Owen and Tim Roth) and a dozen nonfiction books.

The latest looks at a group of visionaries who all had one thing in common: their Jewishness. Examining the contributions of luminaries such as Marx (Karl, not Groucho), Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, alongside lesser known game-changers such as British scientist Rosalind Franklin and German chemist Fritz Haber, Lebrecht aims to answer the question of how these Jews helped remake the world in the course of a century.

The Times of London called the book “practically an inventory of modern times,” praising Lebrecht’s enthusiastic, sprightly approach toward those Jewish men and women “who changed the way we see the world.”
Published in the U.S. by Scribner, January 14

‘Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East’

"Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East"Credit: Henry Holt and Co.

“Nothing has changed the Arab and Muslim world as deeply and fundamentally as the events of 1979,” writes Beirut-born journalist Kim Ghattas in her new book, linking the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the attack by Saudi militants on the Grand Mosque of Mecca.

Ghattas’ previous book was 2013’s “The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power,” and here she explores the destructive rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran that has only increased in enmity in the intervening decades.

The former BBC correspondent also spotlights the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic State group, with Kirkus Review noting that “the headlines from the Middle East make a little more sense through the lens Ghattas provides.”
Published by Henry Holt and Co., January 28

‘The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017’

Six years after penning “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East,” Rashid Khalidi returns with what is being described as “the first general account” of events in the Holy Land “told from an explicitly Palestinian perspective.”

"The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017"Credit: Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt

Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York, and here he recounts the century as a colonial war waged against the Palestinians, drawing on “untapped archival materials” and focusing on pivotal events and family history.

That family history begins with an 1899 letter published by Khalidi’s great-great-uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, the then-mayor of Jerusalem, who warned Theodor Herzl, “In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Published by Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Co., January 28

‘To the Moon on a Plastic Bottle: The Story Behind Israel’s Start-Up Babies’

Hoping to be this decade’s “Start-up Nation,” Dan Raviv and Linor Bar-El’s book goes behind the scenes on the Beresheet lunar mission, which got within touching distance of successfully carrying out a moon landing last April.

"To the Moon on a Plastic Bottle: The Story Behind Israel’s Start-Up Babies"Credit: Gefen Publishing House / Compass

The book draws on interviews with the three young men behind the private venture, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, recounting how they turned a Facebook post and idle chatter in a Holon bar into a space race that blasted off from Cape Canaveral last February.

“To the Moon on a Plastic Bottle” also examines the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit that is embodied within that startup culture, explaining “how the young generation in Israel is essentially continuing the epic journey begun by their biblical forefather Abraham,” no less.
Published by Gefen Publishing House, February 2

‘24 Days: The Kidnapping and Murder of Ilan Halimi’

More than a decade after it was first published in France, the harrowing account of the 2006 abduction, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi receives a belated English-language translation. A 21-year-old French Jew of Tunisian origin, Halimi was kidnapped and held in a suburban Paris apartment for over three weeks. He was so brutally tortured that he had burns over 80 percent of his body, which was eventually dumped in woodland.

"24 Days: The Kidnapping and Murder of Ilan Halimi"Credit: Behrman House Publishers

This memoir by Halimi’s mother, Ruth (with Émilie Frèche), recounts the nightmarish 24 days when she received over 600 phone calls, ransom demands, insults, threats and pictures of her tortured son – in a case that shocked and horrified both France and the world.

The English edition – jointly published with the Anti-Defamation League – comes at an unfortunately apt time, with anti-Semitic attacks a daily threat in America. “This is not only my son Ilan’s story,” Ruth Halimi tells readers. “I want it to be published to remind people of what hatred and intolerance can do, hatred for the other, intolerance of what we see as different.”
Published by Behrman House Publishers, February 13


"Apeirogon"Credit: Random House

An Irish-American author may not be the first person you’d think of to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that’s the task Colum McCann sets himself with the novel “Apeirogon” (a geometry term meaning “a shape with a countably infinite number of sides,” apparently). The narrative focuses on a Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and an Israeli, Rami Elhanan, who have both lost daughters to the conflict. “Over the course of the day, these two men’s lives intertwine as they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace,” is the novel’s enticing premise.

Writers as diverse as Assaf Gavron, Raja Shehadeh and Michael Cunningham have praised “Apeirogon,” while Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout (“Olive Kitteridge”) called it “a wondrous book. … McCann writes with an amazing abundance of humanity as he describes the age old story of inhumanity to man.”
Published by Random House, February 25

‘House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family’

American expat Hadley Freeman has been one of The Guardian’s wittiest writers on fashion and pop culture for some two decades. After previously focusing her sharp words on ’80s movies in “Life Moves Pretty Fast” and helping young women become their best selves in “Be Awesome,” she now turns closer to home with this family memoir.

"House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family"Credit: Simon & Schuster

A chance discovery while going through her deceased grandmother’s belongings sent her on a journey into the past that revealed many family secrets. These include friendships with artists Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, cryptic telegrams from the Red Cross and a microfilm millionaire – all against the looming backdrop of the Holocaust.

“House of Glass” addresses themes of assimilation, identity and home, and Kirkus Review called it “frightening, inspiring and cautionary in equal measure.”
Published by Simon & Schuster, March 24

‘Red Sea Spies: The True Story of Mossad’s Fake Diving Resort’

Although the story of how Mossad set up a fake diving resort in Sudan to clandestinely bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the early 1980s has been written about before – most notably by Mossad operative Gad Shimron, in “Mossad Exodus: The Daring Undercover Rescue of the Lost Jewish Tribe” – Raffi Berg was the first journalist to bring it to wider prominence.

"Red Sea Spies: The True Story of Mossad’s Fake Diving Resort"Credit: Icon Books

He first wrote about the rescue mission on the BBC News website in 2018 (he is the site’s Middle East editor). Now, he promises a deeper dive into the story that was recently turned into a Netflix movie starring Chris Evans, “The Red Sea Diving Resort.”

The book is written “in collaboration with operatives involved in the mission,” and pledges to be “the complete, never-before-heard, gripping tale of a top-secret and often hazardous operation.” For sure, it’s going to be better than the movie.
Published by Icon Books, April 14

‘The Tunnel’

Award-winning Israeli novelist Avraham (“Boolie”) Yehoshua – better known as A.B. Yehoshua – is still going strong as he approaches his mid-80s. His latest novel, “The Tunnel,” is his 12th in 40-odd years and his first since “The Extra” in 2014.

"The Tunnel"Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

First published in Hebrew in 2018, “The Tunnel” (translated by Stuart Schoffman) is about Zvi Luria, a 72-year-old civil engineer who starts showing signs of dementia when he fails to recognize his grandson and brings the wrong child home from preschool. In order to keep his mind fresh, and heeding his wife’s advice, Zvi volunteers to help a young engineer, Asael, who is working on a road project inside the Negev Desert’s Machtesh Ramon – a plan that is not as benign as it appears. When a Palestinian family is discovered living on the proposed route, the elder engineer proposes that a tunnel be built to avoid displacing them.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 4

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