Even if you do not recall the Oslo terrorist attack in 2011, the opening pages of this book make certain there is no surprise. Anders Breivik, a native of Norway exploded a homemade bomb in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and then drove a van to Utoya Island to murder socialist youth. He killed seventy-seven people, most of them children, nearly all with gunshots to the back of the head. Only a few pages after it opens, the story returns to the beginning of Anders Breivik’s life to uncover in page-turning detail his development as a right-wing terrorist bent upon preserving Norway’s ethnic purity from creeping left-wing government policy. Breivik emerges as a psychotic, deranged killer. Except his continued lucidity and consistent logic of self-defined clarity of purpose make him indistinguishable from any member of ISIS, the Taliban, fanatical Israeli settlers and their Hamas counterparts, the routine gun-wielding mass shooters that too routinely make our headlines, more than a few affiliate of the NRA, and several of my neighbors in northwest Pennsylvania. One of us. This book explains what runs through their minds and then asks us to define the border between idealistic soldier of freedom and the psychologically impaired.
Eight short stories. All of them sad. Englander pitches his stories to test the limits of love in binding marriages, ageless friendships, families, and neighbors. Two matriarchs of Israel’s settler movement are asked if they can continue to stand by one another as personal tragedies and then national tragedies overtake them. Childhood friends from yeshiva are reunited after one has become an ultra-orthodox Israeli and the other the mother of a secular son in Florida. Now both married they sit with their husbands and prod one another: for whom would they would sacrifice themselves to save another’s life? Holocaust survivors pass a lifetime in an Israeli shuk acting upon, but not speaking of the unspeakable. Englander’s stories make us think about our own boundaries and sometimes about what in the world he is up to when, for example, he places a protagonist in a peep show staring first at his Rabbi and then at his mother. The author’s directive is that relationships are untrustworthy.
Sourdough Raisin-Walnut Bread
Here’s a slice of raisin – walnut bread. I used golden and Thompson raisins that had plumped overnight in water and nearly two full teaspoons of cinnamon. The walnuts were just the right counterpoint and the loaf was pillowy soft. An egg and some buttermilk in the dough provided a creaminess in the final product that was new for me. I was expecting more sweetness and less sour, but the raisins did their trick. What a combination of flavors: sourdough, spicy cinnamon, fruity raisins, and nuttiness.
Now check out another sourdough just to see how different breads can be.
Inspired by a blog post Sue sent me I made a sourdough variation of David Lebovitz’s scallion flat breads. Using long, fresh scallions recently harvested from the college garden and a whole lot of whole wheat I let this dough rise for a good long time until it was quite sour. I chopped the scallions, kneaded them in, and let the breads rise again. I pressed each small ball of dough flat and fried them until they were just beginning to toast. Salt, sour, earthy wheatiness, scallions, oil.
By themselves they were a complete food, but wrapped around cheddar cheese, thickly sliced tomato, and a couple of leaves of lettuce and they had to be eaten with closed eyes.