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Reich, Tova 1942- (Tova Rachel Reich)

Reich, Tova 1942- (Tova Rachel Reich)

PERSONAL:

Born December 24, 1942, in Liberty, NY; daughter of Moshe and Miriam Weiss; married Walter Reich (a psychiatrist), June 10, 1965; children: Daniel Salo, David Emile, Rebecca Zohar. Education: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1964; New York University, M.A., 1965.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Chevy Chase, MD. Agent—Marly Rusoff & Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 524, Bronxville, NY 1070.

CAREER:

Southern Connecticut State College, New Haven, instructor in English, 1972-73; American University, Washington, DC, instructor in English, 1974-77; writer, 1977—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Master of the Return.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Mara, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1978, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2001.

Master of the Return, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1988.

The Jewish War, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1995.

My Holocaust, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of "Hers," a column in the New York Times, 1978-81. Contributor of stories to magazines, including Harper's and Commentary, and of articles and reviews to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

SIDELIGHTS:

Tova Reich uses comedy and satire to comment upon some particular religious and cultural themes: the Jewish-American woman in America and Israel; the pressures of orthodox Zionism in the unstable Middle East; the meaning of Israel for American Jews; and the manner in which older generations nurture or undermine their youngsters. Reich uses her familiarity with the Torah, Talmud, and Hasidic writings to enrich her modern-day tales set in Israel and the United States. "Tova Reich is a marvelously enigmatic original," declared Benjamin DeMott in the Atlantic Monthly, "and there are effects in her [work] that are beyond casual summoning, secrets reason can't reach."

Reich published her first novel, Mara, in 1978. The novel presents the story of an 18-year-old girl's rebellion against her highly religious—but also unscrupulous—parents, especially her rabbi father. After a sojourn in Israel, Mara Lieb returns to her family with a fiancé whose ethics are quite as dubious as her father's. The story revolves around the marriage of Mara and Sudah, and the subsequent troubles surrounding Mara's father as he is investigated for graft. "Tova Reich's Mara is an altogether different sort of first novel—antic in plot, exploding with characters whose average metabolic rate is alarmingly high," observed a reviewer for the New Leader. "Behind this fluent, maniacally-paced entertainment lies something less slight, less farcical—a novel that confronts its own anger instead of disarming it with humor." According to Jerome Charyn in the New York Times Book Review, Mara "reveals to us the kinky-sexual habits of young Orthodox Jews in America. Mara is startling, playful and irreverent … a fine, poignant first novel."

Reich's Master of the Return continues her satiric look at aspects of orthodox Judaism. Set in Jerusalem, the novel explores the lives of members of a Hasidic sect who share a home in the city's Moslem Quarter. This is no ordinary sect, however: its members are former hippies, artists, mathematicians, and rock musicians—one of them is even a Baptist from Macon, Georgia. The central protagonist, Shmuel Himmelhoch, is discovered dead in the desert at the story's opening, and much of the action is told in flashbacks detailing Shmuel's religious zeal. Master of the Return is "a wildly funny story that becomes mysteriously touching and ponderable before the end," wrote DeMott in the Atlantic Monthly. "Farcical tones don't finally dominate this book. Partly this is because the author has a lively imagination of states of possession and perfervid faith; the vividness with which she dramatizes these phenomena burns off, for long stretches, awareness of the zealots' absurdities." In Library Journal, Molly Abramowitz noted of the book: "Reich pinpoints absurdity and self-righteousness beautifully…. [The novel is] an arresting contemporary treatment of Jewish spirituality and renewal."

In The Jewish War, Reich tackles the sensitive issue of radical Zionism and its agenda for the Middle East. To quote Rosellen Brown in the New Leader: "Now [Reich's] targets include Israeli as well as American Jewish life and the politics of peace, of Israeli-Arab coexistence, of land repatriation—all the nagging little questions that might arise when a Bronx boy named Jerry Goldberg, reborn at the Homeland's border Yehudi Ha-Goel, has himself anointed King of secessionist Judea and Samaria." The story is humorous and satirical, with serious undertones that pertain to Israel's current political issues.

In the New York Times Book Review, Patrick McGrath declared that The Jewish War "is remarkable for many reasons. It is political and religious satire of the highest order. It is also a vigorous and at times moving story people with fallible, complicated, entirely credible characters. And, perhaps most impressive, it displays an unerring control of tone, moving from the high comedy of a summer camp in the Catskills in the early 1960s to a grand, dramatic conclusion in the ancient city of Hebron in the late 1990s." A Kirkus Reviews contributor maintained that, with publication of The Jewish War, Reich "has lost none of her bite and insight, and may well have gained a new summit in her literary achievements."

With My Holocaust, Reich delves into the standard mythos of the Holocaust survivor and turns it on its ear. Rather than offering readers a nonfiction account of the atrocities of World War Two, she has written a fictional satire that looks at the symbols of the war and the complacency that has built up around ideas and issues that are decades old. Protagonist Maurice Messer is a Holocaust survivor and in charge of a major U.S. Holocaust Memorial, which strongly resembles the museum located in Washington, DC. Messer's goals include his own personal aggrandizement, along with the elevation of Jews in the public eye and the reacquisition of those who have strayed from their religion, and he uses his position and the Holocaust itself as a means of manipulating people into following his vision. Maurice's family has its own issues with their religion, but all is put on hold when a terrorist group threatens the museum. Michele Leber, writing for Booklist, remarked that "although this satire could be tighter, it is piercing and perceptive and cuts a wide swath." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews dubbed the book "a harshly provocative satire on the commodification of the Holocaust and competition for greater victimhood." Acknowledging the sensitivity of the subject, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "Reich's satire is broad, scabrous, cynical, over-the-top, often hilarious—and likely to cause a scandal."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Atlantic Monthly, May, 1988, Benjamin DeMott, review of Master of the Return, p. 92.

Booklist, March 15, 2007, Michele Leber, review of My Holocaust, p. 26.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1995, review of The Jewish War, p. 665; February 1, 2007, review of My Holocaust, p. 96.

Library Journal, April 15, 1988, Molly Abramowitz, review of Master of the Return, p. 96.

New Leader, July 31, 1978, review of Mara, pp. 16-17; June 5, 1995, Rosellen Brown, review of The Jewish War, pp. 25-27.

New York Times Book Review, June 11, 1978, Jerome Charyn, review of Mara, p. 12; July 23, 1995, Patrick McGrath, review of The Jewish War, p. 10-11.

Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2007, review of My Holocaust, p. 55.

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