Feature

6 book recommendations from Deborah Feldman

The best-selling author recommends works by Didier Eribon, Primo Levi, and more

Deborah Feldman is the author of the best-selling memoir Unorthodox, about her escape from the strict Orthodox Jewish community she'd grown up in. Exodus, Revisited, an expanded version of her followup memoir, has just been published.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (1975).

Levi had a gift for approaching interactions between people much in the same way that he studied interactions between chemicals in his official vocation. The stories in this wide-ranging collection serve as a compendium on humanity in all its states, both devastating and uplifting in scope. Buy it here.

Native Realm by Czeslaw Milosz (1959).

In this dense yet gripping work, Milosz combines the literary elements of the personal memoir with rich ribbons of historical and philosophical exposition. The result is not just the story of a remarkable life, but also a treatise with sweeping geographical and chronological reach. Buy it here.

Maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja (2014).

I adore this elliptical exploration of a complex ancestral past, which illustrates how one family history can tell us so much about the world we come from, and how it has shaped the one we live in today. Petrowskaja's language is languid in a powerfully seductive way; even as she wanders in the darkness, we remain anchored by the intensity of her voice. Buy it here.

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova (2017).

This is a more recent but no less compelling example of an author delving into mysteries of the past — in this case a century of family history — to illuminate the present. Here the language is forceful and assured, and the many sharp twists and turns are navigated with masterful agility. Buy it here.

Shame by Annie Ernaux (1998).

I've devoured all Ernaux's books, and this is the one I recommend as an entry point. With Ernaux, it always boils down to how shame functions as the ultimate tool in a social system designed to keep everyone in their place. Here, we also learn that refusing to accept that shame is the most empowering act. Buy it here.

Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon (2009).

Eribon is considered an heir to Ernaux, but this is more of a sociological manifesto in the French tradition, braced with the underpinnings of a memoir. The stance is vulnerable yet unapologetic, and the book helps us understand how the identity forced on us by our origins may haunt us long beyond our own awareness. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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