A brilliant young author’s stunning fiction debut: gorgeously immersive and imaginative stories that transcend borders as they render the intimate lives of people striving for connection
„A beautiful debut by a deeply humane writer. Every story is a vivid world unto itself, intensely felt, and often revelatory.“–Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love
The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land announces the arrival of a natural-born storyteller of immense talent. Warm, poignant, delightfully whimsical, Omer Friedlander’s gorgeously immersive and imaginative stories take you to the narrow limestone alleyways of Jerusalem, the desolate beauty of the Negev Desert, and the sprawling orange groves of Jaffa, with characters that spring to vivid life. A divorced con artist and his daughter sell empty bottles of „holy air“ to credulous tourists; a Lebanese Scheherazade enchants three young soldiers in a bombed-out Beirut radio station; a boy daringly „rooftops“ at night, climbing steel cranes in scuffed sneakers even as he reimagines the bravery of a Polish-Jewish dancer during the Holocaust; an Israeli volunteer at a West Bank checkpoint mourns the death of her son, a soldier killed in Gaza.
These stories render the intimate lives of people striving for connection. They are fairy tales turned on their head by the stakes of real life, where moments of fragile intimacy mix with comedy and notes of the absurd. Told in prose of astonishing vividness that also demonstrates remarkable control and restraint, they have a universal appeal to the heart.
Friedlander debuts with a dynamic story collection set in Israel that probes the challenges faced by Israeli Jews–national security, relations with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, religious-secular schisms–with sensitivity and compassion. „Checkpoint“ is told from the perspective of a grieving mother who monitors potential human rights abuses at a checkpoint between Israel and the occupied territories. She ruminates about sending her son off „to be killed in a war I don’t believe in, fighting for a government I hate.“ In „The Sephardi Survivor,“ two siblings, envious of their classmates who have family Holocaust stories, try to convince an old man to pose as their grandfather for their school’s Shoah Memorial Day. „Jaffa Oranges“ explores a Jewish man’s guilt over betraying a Palestinian friend, and the title story unpacks the fraught relationship between a father and his daughter, who helps him sell „holy“ bottled air. Friedlander imbues his characters with a deeply felt humanity, and his finely tuned command of emotional tenor will evoke tears and laughter in equal measure („I couldn’t study because I was listening to my grandfather’s Shoah story was a common reason for failing a math test“). These superior character portraits make for an auspicious start. (Apr.)
– Publishers Weekly
After debuting with the multi-award-finalist Godshot, Bieker returns with stories of Heartbroke characters whose loves and losses unfold in California’s sunstruck Central Valley. Former Wallace Stegner Fellow Folk debuts with a collection of absurdist stories, including Out There, a piece published in The New Yorker about a woman whose attempts to use a dating app are disrupted by incredibly handsome yet artificial men deployed by Russian hackers. Acquired in a two-book deal that includes his debut novel, NYU Starworks fellow Friedlander’s The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land is set in Israel and the Middle East and features outsiders who must contend with past sorrow or future uncertainty. A second collection after Light Lifting, which was short-listed for Giller, Commonwealth, and Frank O’Connor honors, MacLeod’s Animal Person explores those moments when one’s life is about to change (25,000-copy first printing). From poet Mirosevich, also author of the award-winning nonfiction Pink Harvest, Spell Heaven offers linked stories about a lesbian couple finding happiness in a coastal town. From Newman, whose memoir Still Points North was a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle’s John Leonard Prize, Nobody Gets Out Alive highlights women struggling to get by in rugged Alaska (50,000-copy first printing). Witchcraft, blue jaguars, and a California rainforest-set novella starring Maria, Maria and possibly more Marias all feature in this mystical debut from former PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow Rubio.
– Library Journal
A debut short story collection spanning the diverse lives of Israel’s inhabitants.
In these stories, Israel is brought to life as much more than a nation constantly making headlines for rockets and airstrikes and boycotts and occupation: It is a nation of individuals. From a teenage girl in love with a Bedouin boy to an activist mother who monitors checkpoints in her spare time to a son of shoemakers who climbs buildings at night to the titular luftmensch who tries to make a living selling air, Friedlander shows that Israel’s inhabitants and their experiences are anything but monolithic. As with most collections, the pieces here are a bit uneven; some are riveting, while others seem to struggle to get off the ground. Occasionally, the stories suffer from an overdose of sentimentality. Overall, however, the care with which Friedlander treats his subjects makes for richly drawn characters, settings, and scenarios. Empathy pervades these stories; one feels it in Friedlander’s attitude toward his characters and cannot help but feel it toward them as well. In addition, Friedlander’s skillfully crafted, imagistic prose captivates and soars. With this collection, Friedlander positions himself as poised to join a formidable cadre that includes writers such as David Grossman and Etgar Keret.
A well-crafted, if occasionally uneven, debut that promises a bright future for Friedlander.
– Kirkus Reviews
In these wise, capacious, achingly beautiful stories, Omer Friedlander maps the hidden geography of the human heart like a young Chekhov. Each one feels like a fresh new discovery, and collected together, The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land becomes a sustained feat of imaginative compassion.“–Anthony Marra, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
„Innovative in conception, classical in spirit, these stories, set largely in Israel, resonate with international ramifications. Rarely do we encounter a writer so young but also this wise. . . . A splendid literary debut.“–Ha Jin, National Book Award-winning author of Waiting
„Friedlander blends fable and realism in extraordinarily imaginative ways. Again and again, he achieves a fine balance between the tragic and the absurd. Every one of these stories moved me and taught me something I did not know before.“–Sigrid Nunez, National Book Award-winning author of The Friend
„As outrageously funny as they are outrageously tender, Friedlander’s stories conjure complex and often difficult emotions with perfect acrobatic skill. This terrible world, he seems to be telling us, is so terribly wonderful that it is perfectly all right to laugh and cry at the same time. A superb collection.“–Kiran Desai, Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss
„The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land is a beautifully written collection, and Omer Friedlander is an exceptionally thoughtful writer. He tells these stories with care and attention equal to the complexities of the people and places that fill their pages. I’m already looking forward to what he’ll do next.“–Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds and A Shout in the Ruins
„With Omer Friedlander as our guide, we are expertly transported over their topographies and even across their respective borders. He is a remarkable talent.“–Elliot Ackerman, author of Red Dress in Black and White
„In Omer Friedlander’s wonderful stories even the animals bear the weight of history–a one-eyed cat named Moshe Dayan, a turtle named Ghetto Lodz–but it’s the people who are most indelible: a man who sells air in Tel Aviv, a Polish Jewish prima ballerina who kills a Nazi officer with the tip of her heel. There’s a touch of magic in these stories reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Nathan Englander. But the world Friedlander creates is all his own. Through his orange-grove workers, junk collectors, soldiers, and grieving mothers, he makes Israel and Palestine–the whole history of the Middle East–come alive. The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land is an astonishing, breathtaking debut.“–Joshua Henkin, author of Morningside Heights
„Friedlander’s voice mixes those two nearly unmixables: intelligence and whimsy. He is one of those rare authors who can trap each moment in a surprising and somehow perfect detail. A major work–I urge you to read it.“–Darin Strauss, New York Times bestselling author of The Queen of Tuesday
„Omer Friedlander is a marvelous new voice, bringing magic, chance, and surprise to his stories without ever losing sight of the human and the real. I’d follow this writer anywhere.“–Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer finalist for The Great Believers
„Friedlander debuts with a dynamic collection. . . . With sensitivity and compassion [he] imbues his characters with a deeply felt humanity, and his finely tuned command of emotional tenor will evoke tears and laughter in equal measure. . . . These superior character portraits make for an auspicious start.“–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
– From the Publisher
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