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Jewish American Heritage Month

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In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we’re revisiting the work of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other honors.

“Am I a writer who writes on Jewish subjects or a Jewish writer who writes on many subjects?” Pearlman once asked of her own work in an interview with Hadassah Magazine. She went on: “Am I a Jewish American Writer, a Jewish American Female Writer, a Jewish American Female Writer bred in New England and therefore part Yankee?”

What is clear is that her work has left a significant mark on the Jewish American literary landscape. Binocular Vision is as diasporic as the Jewish people, with stories set in Jerusalem, London, Boston, Central America, and beyond. As author Molly Antopol explained in a tribute to Pearlman for the Jewish Book Council, “Many of the most important things I’ve learned about writing I gleaned from reading Pearlman: that some of the best, and most satisfying, story collections aren’t woven together by character or by a particular place, but by something as ephemeral as theme—displacement, heartbreak, the secrets we keep from the people closest to us.”

Pearlman’s words often draw beauty amid otherwise austere scenes: humor in a Torah study group’s poker night (“Chance”), or a character’s parrot companion, chosen for his clever rabbinic stare (“Vaquita”).

Many Pearlman stories are set in Godolphin, a fictional suburb reminiscent of Brookline, MA, where she and her husband raised their two children. “My stories are rarely autobiographical,” she explains, “except in the Flaubertian sense that all characters from hero through villain to pet parrot, c’est moi.”

Binocular Vision won the 2012 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, awarded by Hadassah Magazine for the most outstanding Jewish-themed fiction. Her story “Purim Night” was chosen among winners of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for inclusion in The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction.

One of the best ways to appreciate Pearlman’s work is to read her stories aloud. As author Kate DiCamillo recently suggested to the NY Times, “Binocular Vision is spectacular to read out loud.”

After all, a story is a way of building intimacy, a kind of a love affair. “The reader and I the author are collaborating in unveiling someone’s obsessive desire,” as Pearlman once put it, “in opening someone’s grieving heart; in discovering, or at least searching for, a new and abiding truth. By the end of this adventure, we are a little bit in love.”

To follow DiCamillo’s advice, we invite you to listen to excerpts from Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision on our Instagram feed and also to enjoy full access to her stories “Vallies” and “Ministry of Restraint,” first published by our sister magazine, Ecotone.

A new printing of her internationally acclaimed collection Binocular Vision is forthcoming.



Thanks to Lookout staffer Natalie Coe for compiling this feature.