Among the Living


Publication Date: Oct 04, 2016

320 pp

Hardcover

List Price US $25.95
Trim Size (H x W): 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781590518038

Ebook

List Price US $12.99
ISBN: 9781590518045


A moving novel about a Holocaust survivor’s unconventional journey back to a new normal in 1940s Savannah, Georgia

In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Goldah, a camp survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives. They are Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world, where Reform and Conservative Jews live separate lives–distinctions, to him, that are meaningless given what he has been through. He further complicates things when, much to the Jeslers’ dismay, he falls in love with Eva, a young widow within the Reform community. When a woman from Yitzhak’s past suddenly appears–one who is even more shattered by the war than he is–Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life.

Set amid the backdrop of America’s postwar south, Among the Living grapples with questions of identity and belonging, and steps beyond the Jewish experience as it situates Yitzhak’s story within the last gasp of the Jim Crow era. That he begins to find echoes of his recent past in the lives of the black family who work for the Jeslers–an affinity he does not share with the Jeslers themselves–both surprises and convinces Yitzhak that his choices are not as clear-cut as he might think.



Excerpt from Among the Living

Yitzhak Goldah pressed his sallow brow to the glass and stared out at the slowing platform. It was late summer, and he felt the beads of his sweat gather like warm rain on his skin. Down a ways a small black boy walked alongside the train. He was carrying a stack of newspapers and barked out the headlines in a voice that was far too low for his small frame. Goldah had read the papers in New York. He had read them in Washington, in Richmond, in Raleigh. He would read them here. They all spoke of America and of confidence, and he marveled at their certainty.

Standing there Goldah looked perfectly human. His suit hung crisply on his frame and lent it a heft that wasn’t his. He was like a sail still holding its shape even after the wind has died away. He braced himself for the train’s final heave, then took his suitcase and hat and followed the line of passengers to the door. Down on the platform the smell quickly turned to coal dust and scorched metal. The cement and well-washed marble reminded him of distant places from before the war, the iron beams thick and vaulted. Goldah walked and peered ahead and waited for the first glimpse of his future.

It was there, just beyond the single chain between stanchion and gate. A man, early-fifties, stood in a suit that was far more forgiving of the heat than Goldah’s own. The wife was younger, thicker, and with a netted hat to match the floral print of her dress. They stood without moving, like two potatoes, upright, full, misshapen, and solid.


This stirring, powerful novel never sugarcoats its themes or characters; what emerges is a hard-won realism and a compelling look at one corner of the postwar world.” —Booklist

“In this amazing novel full of plot twists, Rabb examines true love, fair treatment to people of all races, how to practice honorable journalism, and what it means to be truly alive.” —Library Journal

“Rabb is an accomplished storyteller with an eye for telling detail and for dialogue.” —Kirkus

“Jonathan Rabb is one of my favorite writers, a highly gifted heart-wise storyteller if ever there was one. From its first pages, Among the Living carries you into a particular time and setting, and into the lives of people with whom you are entirely unfamiliar and holds you there with a story that will almost certainly stay with you for years to come. What a powerful, moving book.” —David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom 

“A sensitive and well-observed journey that brings the texture and spirit of its era vividly to life. Rabb’s humanistic gaze places Among the Living among the timeless American stories about identity.” —Geoffrey Fletcher, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Precious

Among the Living is a beautifully written and immensely readable love story. Jonathan Rabb has created an original and penetrating study of Judaism in the deep south and the many forms it takes.” —Alfred Uhry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Driving Miss Daisy

“With a delicate but sure touch, Jonathan Rabb delves into questions of racial identity, religious expression, and cultural assimilation. His is a nuanced and evocative novel, no less readable for its rich complexity.” —Christina Baker Kline, best-selling author of Orphan Train

Among the Living contains multitudes. It’s wry and moving, lyrical and direct, historical and timely, Jewish and (above all) American. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while.” —Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

“An insightful and evocative antidote to nostalgia about the ‘good old days’ of America’s post-World War II era.” —Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow, A Thread of Grace, and Epitaph

“What is unusual and so appealing about Jonathan Rabb’s Among the Living is that the novel takes two issues that separately we’ve heard so much about—the European Jewish experience and the Jim Crow era south—and blends them together in a way that demonstrates a fresh perspective. I found it powerful and engaging.” —Stephanie Crowe, Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL

Among the Living is great. I love that it’s dynamic, complicated, and nuanced in its exploration of human relationships. It’s also captivating and beautifully written. I ripped through this rich novel.” —Katie Eelman, Papercuts J.P. in Boston, MA

Praise for The Second Son:

“A powerful, shocking, and moving novel . . . Rabb is an accomplished storyteller as well as a superb stylist, and the conclusion of his trilogy is at once affecting and effective in its portrayal of the run-up to a global nightmare.” —Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Remarkable . . . A gripping book.” —Seattle Times

Praise for Rosa:

“Tantalizing . . . memorable . . . a tour de force.” —New York Times Book Review


  1. When Goldah arrives in Savannah he recognizes “This was the second code, the second assurance that [he] belonged” (p 7). What are the “codes” that signal to Goldah the mores of the town or the Jewish community the Jeslers are a part of?
  1. Compare Goldah’s first encounter with Mary Royal (pp 14–19) to their interaction starting on page 44. How are the two scenes different? What causes the difference? How would you describe Mary Royal?
  1. Goldah remembers his father telling him, “You wouldn’t want me digging a ditch” (p 135). How do Goldah’s father’s feelings and ideas about class reflect on Jesler’s and Pearl’s own preoccupations with it? Are there other ways in which Goldah’s life in Europe reverberate in his new life in Savannah?
  1. Goldah remembers that when his father was murdered, the SS guards explained that it “was for Goldah to stand and watch. It was nothing his father had said or done. It was simply to show it could be done” (p 137). Do you think there is a similarity between how Goldah’s father is murdered and the violence Raymond is subjected to?
  1. What does Calvin mean when he says, “They tried to kill you, all a you, all at once. I seen that. But here they kill us one at a time and that’s a difference” (p 116)? Explain the “difference” that he refers to.
  1. How does the Jewish community Pearl introduces Goldah to treat him and his experience of the Holocaust? What is the difference between the Jeslers and the De la Parras? What do Goldah and Malke make of this difference?
  1. How does Malke’s appearance affect Goldah’s life in Savannah? Why do you think Goldah is unable to identify with Malke when he so easily feels a camaraderie with Calvin and Raymond?
  1. What is the difference between how Malke and Goldah react to their experiences of the Holocaust? Why do you think Goldah is able to make a home in Savannah while Malke has to leave?
  1. Describe Malke. Do you think she functions as an antagonist or a villain in this novel?
  1. When Goldah first arrives in Savannah, Pearl and Jesler insist on making decisions for him. (See page 11, “Goldah realized the name had been in the car with them all along.”) What decisions does Goldah make on his own? Do you think that by the end of the novel Goldah reaches a measure of autonomy?
  1. At the end of the novel Goldah says he has two selves, “One to survive, the other to live” (p 297). What in Savannah has taught him how to live?