Friday Links

Here’s a picture of beautiful and grand Union Station I took when I was there for a meeting earlier this week.  It’s just one more thing I love about DC.

This weekend, Mr. B and I are headed to the Poconos with a bunch of family with no Internet connection.  Morituri te saultant.

From the blogs:

  1. Jodi on marketing and how it affects us
  2. Registan on Wikileaks
  3. Goatmilk’s sweet play and cover
  4. The Harpies on why Chelsea’s wedding doesn’t matter
  5. Dovbear on a sweet picture
  6. Petya on her very touching grandma

From the Interwebs:

  1. A Visual Introduction to an Afghan Woman’s Mutilation
  2. Postcards from Language Camp
  3. Half-Japanese and Half-Russian=my mind blown
  4. Old Jewish man jokes
  5. Did you hear about how crazy Putin is?
  6. Speaking like a human at work
  7. Pop icons in a different light
  8. The real housewives of Moscow…please sign me up?

Gary Shteyngart kind of acknowledges me on Facebook

So, last week, MODG wrote about how she got to meet my fave snarky, no-bull TV reality star  Bethenny Frankel while Bethenny was signing bottles in a liquor store while MODG was pregnant AND MODG made her laugh.


I don’t have anything nearly as epic to report, but Gary Shteyngart ANSWERED ME ON FACEBOOK ON MONDAY.

People, this is a huge deal.

As you may know, as I continue to work on my wretched novel that attempts to satirize Russian Jewish immigrants in the United States, the country of Israel, and corporate culture all at once,

It started Monday morning, when Gary wrote:

Of course, I follow him on Facebook, so in hopes of getting him to acknowledge my existence

Which is basically an inside joke for anyoen who’s ever watched the Soviet classic movie Brilyantovaya Ruka (The Diamond Arm),  in which one of the main characters wakes up hungover and starts drinking champagne right away and is chastised by his boss, who says “Shampanskoye utrom tolko piut aristokrati i degenirati”-Shampagne is drunk in the morning only by aristocrats and degenerates, only it’s funnier in Russian because aristokrat and degenerat rhyme.

It took me just as long to come up with the joke as it did to explain it just now.

Anyway, so he replied,

which totally doesn’t tell me whether he thought I was witty and clever or just creepin’.

In  my humble opinion, the best way an author can appreciate his fans is to let them write part of his next novel.


What were YOU doing instead of getting heat stroke?

at a water stop.

Thoughts I had while biking the Mt. Vernon trail from Crystal City to almost-Mt. Vernon this weekend in record-high temperatures (Mr. B abstained from joining me, for some reason):

  • Mile 1: I’m going to get skin cancer, despite the fact that I have so many layers of SPF 45 sunblock on that I might as well be wearing  hijab.   If I get skin cancer, will my insurance cover it, even if it was kind of intentional.  I really, really wanted to not sit around the house.  I wonder if I get skin cancer,  whether I will have to have a face transplant, like John Travolta in Face/Off and Mr. B won’t recognize me, leading to awkward situations around the house.  If I don’t get skin cancer, I’m going to get skin poisoning from the lotion.
  • Mile 2: I have to remember to hydrate frequently. Lots of people die in the desert, just like that.  One minute, you’re freaking Lawrence of Arabia, the next, you’re down in the sand with rattlesnakes eating your intestines.  I take a huge swig from my water bottle.  Although the Mt. Vernon trail is incredibly shady, with lots of trees and not lots of direct sunlight, you can never be too careful.  The sun is a tricky bastard.
  • Mile 4: Holy crap. There are other people biking out in this weather.  Lots of other people. And they are way more intense than me.  They have special bicycles and special jerseys and are gunning at alarming rates.  Which leads me to believe that I’m not working out hard enough.  So I peddle harder.
  • Mile 7: Back to my normal speed.  Afraid of heatstroke/heartburn/sweat. The things we hypochondriacs have to deal with. I think being a hypochondriac is a disease.
  • Mile 8: I’m going to put this song on loop for the next mile, because I can’t get it out of my head:
  • Mile 9: Time to switch up the music.  I’m feeling a little too much like I’m at Golden Gates, the premier Russian restaurant in Philadelphia, where, on more than one occasion, I’ve left, gone to sleep, woke up two days later, and still felt like  Adamir Mugu was diligently pounding away in my skull.  Speaking of which.  Time to reserve Golden Gates for my birthday!
  • Mile 11:  How the hell do these crazy bikers keep passing me? They must be more hydrated than me. Or maybe they are doing speed. Either.
  • Mile 11: What? Why is this path suddenly going uphill?  It’s like I’m on Stage 5 of the Tour de France or whatever.
  • Mile 12: Only three miles left until Mt. Vernon!  I can hold out, I think.  On second thought, if I pass out in two miles, Mr. B will have to come get me, and there’s no room for a bike in his Civic, (much less my new leg muscles) so I’m going to do him a favor and turn around.  You’re welcome, Mr. B, and you don’t even know it yet.
  • Mile 13: On my way back to the bike rental shop.  Biking through beautiful Old Town Alexandria, the Potomac to my right, the Capitol and monuments ahead of me.  This is beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and I’m so lucky to be alive and be able to bike.  I love everything about living in this area and being able to bike by old houses with pretty flowers and people leisurely walking with drooping Golden Retrievers.
  • Mile 15: Back to worrying about melanoma.
  • Mile 18: Almost there.  I call Mr. B to pick me up…literally.  I can’t move my legs.
  • Mile 21: I’m at Reagan Airport, which means I only have a mile to go.  I wish I could fly back to the bike shop.
  • Mile 22: I’m back!   The bike shop people: Your face looks red!  Me: Like melanoma red, dehydration red, or just exercising red?

Can’t wait to go again.


Friday Links!

Yesterday, as Mr. B and I are taking a walk:

Me: So, a Pinkberry just opened in Denver and there are ridiculous lines.
Mr. B:  Pinkberry’s going to be a mainstay in the future.
Me:  I think this whole frozen yogurt thing is a huge fad and the market is oversaturated, just like it got in the 1980s.
Mr. B: (defensively) No it’s not. Frozen yogurt is here to stay and so is the healthy food movement.
**20-minute argument about whether frozen yogurt is a fad or will stay and how it relates to the healthy food movement**
Mr. B:  It’s not a fad. I’m going to make sure of that.  I’m going to e-mail everyone I know to eat frozen yogurt. I am going to spam the hell out of my whole mailing list.
Me: Ah! The truth comes out.  It’s not a fad because you don’t want it to be a fad because you love frozen yogurt. Who are you going to spam, your grandparents?  And then they’ll go to Pinkberry with their Macs and their hipster glasses?
Mr. B: Yes.  And I’m going to make sure everyone else loves it, too. I’ll e-mail our family and tell them frozen yogurt supports Israel.  They’ll eat it.
Me: What are you, the kingmaker of desserts?
Mr. B: Correct.

This is the man I live with.


  1. Lindsey on Nutella
  2. Jill’s very touching post on sending her husband off to Iraq for a year
  3. Monica asks whether you use the f word online
  4. Jewschool on the implications for Russian Jews in Israel re: the Rotem conversion bill
  5. Neil on thinktank internships
  6. Jodi on what Americans eat
  7. The Harpies on commenters


  1. The web means the end of forgetting
  2. Project Completely Crazy
  3. Polyandry in India
  4. Lattes and hot showers in Afghanistan
  5. That website, I write like, was created by a Russian
  6. Czechoslovakian matchboxes from the 1960s

Book Review: The Debba (with Vicki-suggested cover art!)

(Full disclaimer: Thank you to Other Press for sending me a copy of the book.)

I  always judge books by their covers.  I have no remorse over this, and it’s lead me to great selections.  Based on simply cover alone, I surmised that The Debba is a spy thriller, much like The Moscow Rules, which would result in someone lying facedown in an unmarked sewer in Cairo.

So, for the next release, I recommend  a cover change that will appeal more to the author’s intended demographic:

Now there is something that draws my eye immediately.

Fortunately,   the book turned out to be a real page turner and an incredible philosophical exercise in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I loved it, and I think it’s an important read for anyone interested in engaging on debate about hamatzav.

First things first:  If you have a set stance on Israel/Palestine that you will never change your mind on, you will hate this book.  It will drive you crazy because it refuses to take sides and offer simple black-white messages and consists of multiple twists and turns.  In general, I think there’s a lot to take away and to discuss long after you finish reading it.

The book starts,in 1977, with a phone call to David Starkman, ex-Israeli living with his Polish girlfriend in Canada, having renounced his Israeli citizenship,  while having nightmares dating back to his army service.  His father, who he has not talked to in seven years,  has been murdered in Tel Aviv.  Despite his extreme discomfort with going back to Israel, he books a ticket on the next flight and is soon in the country he hasn’t been to in almost a decade to figure out what happened to his father.

Tel Aviv Purim Parade, 1940s.

The descriptions of Israel are spot-on without being cloying and obvious and, I think, meant to make the reader homesick.  When David first gets off the plane late at night, he describes, “In a flash, the nocturnal smells converged on me like starved furies.  Orange blossoms; the salty smell of the sea; the dust; the hot tarmac.  I steeled myself and walked on. The hot wind ruffled my hair.”

When he lands, he stays with his army friend, Ehud and his girlfriend, Ruti, with whom David shares a past history (the prehistory, as the book often describes).  “An ancient Mercedes cab, its four doors dented, took me to Ibn Gvirol Street. The driver, a muscular man with a close-cropped head, assiduously avoidd looking at me.  I paid him…and got off at the corner of Eliyahu Street. Darkness enveloped everything, thick and fragrant like breath. The green glow of the streetlamps seeped through the tzaftzafa trees; white bedsheets, flapping slowly like ghosts, hung on clotheslines. A gray cat slunk into a yard. Nothing seemed to have changed since I left.”

It’s obvious that David loves the country of Israel while at the same time hating the army top-secret missions he was implicated in that caused him to leave.  Tel Aviv is described perfectly: Mediterranean, worn, dusty, hot, and, yet, completely loveable. The city is as much a character in the book as any of the others Mandelman creates- Amzaleg, the Sephardic police detective who helps David, David’s uncle Mordechai, and the ever-growing gangs of Shin Bet, internal security services.

As David begins to try to understand who killed his father, the police become less friendly and tell him not to get involved, to go back to Canada.  This makes him want to press further, and he discovers that his father’s death is possibly related to a play he co-wrote with Rubin Paltiel, called The Debba, which sparked Israeli-Arab riots the first and only time it was staged in the 1940s in Haifa due to its controversial content regarding Israeli-Arab relations.  His father’s will stipulates that the play must be put on again in order for David to receive the money, and somehow, everyone around him discourages it.  The story revolves around the mystery of the play and David’s role in it, as well as his father’s role in the 1948 War for Independence and in killing an Arab terrorist, Abu Jalood,  and unravels quite satisfactorily at the end.

Tel Aviv, 1948

I loved this book for many reasons, even though I hate mystery novels, stuff with murder in it, and books that try to wrap up Israel in a couple hundred pages.   First is that the ending is a complete surprise and really left me thinking about the book for several days afterwards. Second is that it gives an inside look at Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as the days of the Israeli War of Independence, and it really leads you to believe that nothing is solid in history.

When I first learned Israeli history, I learned that all of the first pioneers to Israel were brave and strong, building the Jewish homeland, and there was no room for reinterpretation.  This is certainly not the case: the pioneers were not automatons and had human emotions,  some of which led to hard decisions, and this kind of behavior is shown clearly in the book.

I also loved this book because it really made me feel like I was in Israel during that time period.  The author’s clever use of inserting Hebrew and Arabic phrases throughout the text to get just enough effect and not oversaturate with stereotype, as well as the descriptions of the fresh cucumbers and sitting at Cafe Kassit really opened up Israel of the 1970s for me.

It’s true that, without at least a bit of knowledge about Israeli history, you could get lost in some of the terminology and references.  But discovering is always half the fun.

You can buy it here.