Jewish Book Council “Spring 2015 Jewish Book Preview” featured title
"A heartfelt story of loss, hope, and reconciliation." BOOKLIST
“Brafman’s tale of three generations of women shows that woundednessdamage to mind and soulcan travel down the generations, and that so can kindness, courage and, ultimately, self-healing. . . . [Washing the Dead] succeeds in showing how family history has a way of sneaking up on us from the depths of the past, shaping the present in ways both familiar and unexpected.” Haaretz
A Washingtonian magazine "Book Washingtonians Should Be Reading"
“Preparing the dead for traditional Jewish burial is considered the holiest and most sacred mitzvah that a Jew may perform because there is no way for the dead to repay the act of goodness. . . . In performing this mitzvah [in Washing the Dead], the protagonist cleanses herself of hatreds and misunderstandings that she has been carrying around since her youth.”
Jewish Book Council
“Deeply moving. . . . We are eased into an Orthodox Jewish community and a family burdened by secrets as gently as if an old friend were guiding us every step of the way. . . . Washing the Dead is a profoundly hopeful book. I can think of few others that honor ordinary women as simply and as clearly as this one does. Read it to feel how much is possible in the world all around us.”
Best New Fiction
puts her mother-and-daughter characters through the fire. Yet on the other side, each comes out refined, understanding that the legacy of one’s family requires understanding and true forgiveness, which may be the greatest mitzvah of all.”
“Intimate, big-hearted, compassionate and clear-eyed, Brafman’s novel turns secrets into truths and the truth into the heart of fiction.” AMY BLOOM, author of Lucky Us and Away
“Heartfelt and genuine, Brafman’s Washing the Dead never betrays the complicated truths of family and tradition.” DAVID BEZMOZGIS, author of The Betrayers and Natasha: and Other Stories
“From roots in one religious tradition, comes a tale of emotional redemption for all of us. Brafman’s astonishing compassion for all human frailty infuses this story about the need for truth and the promise of forgiveness.” HELEN SIMONSON, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
“Sensual and spiritual, shot with betrayals, Washing the Dead plumbs the destructive power of secrets across three generations of mothers and daughters. In haunting prose, Brafman offers a riveting glimpse into Orthodox and Chasidic life, and breathtaking insight into what it means to forgive.” DYLAN LANDIS, author of Rainey Royal and Normal People Don’t Live Like This
“A rich tale of love, friendship, yearning, and forgiveness. Brafman’s beautifully wrought prose quickly cuts to the heart of things: how to live, how to love, and how to care for the dead.” JESSICA ANYA BLAU, author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and The Wonder Bread Summer
“Like a Jewish Anne Lamott, Brafman reels you in with warmth, depth and heart. Infused with lush detail about Orthodox Jewish life in the Midwest... Brafman has written a charming and original spiritual page-turner about love, forgiveness, and family life.” SUSAN COLL, author of The Stager and Acceptance
“Throughout these pages, moving in shadow, runs the terrific responsibility of forgiveness and redemption. . . . Michelle Brafman has done us all a true mitzvah by writing this beautiful book.” ROBERT BAUSCH, author of Far as the Eye Can See and A Hole in the Earth
“What a spectacular debut.” T. GREENWOOD, author of The Forever Bridge and Bodies of Water
“Brafman offers a fresh, vital narrative about guilt, love, loss, and the necessity of wrestling with the dark angel of a painful family legacy until it blesses you. June Pupnick, one of the most bewitching and problematic fictional mothers I’ve come across in years, makes a regular habit of escaping her life by ‘gobbling up’ novels ‘without chewing.’ Please resist gobbling this novel. Slow down, savor the richness and generosity of Brafman’s storytelling, and then buy a copy for your most deserving friend.” MARGARET MEYERS, author of Dislocation and Swimming in the Congo
“With the knife blade of her prose honed razor sharp, Brafman skillfully dissects the bonds of mother-daughter relationships.... She weaves together the sacred and the profane, reverberating silences, exile and return, atonement and forgiveness with the tenderness of a mother braiding the hair of a beloved daughter.” FAYE MOSKOWITZ, author of Her Face in the Mirror and A Leak in the Heart
“An illuminating and intricately layered novel about the complicated legacies that pass from mother to daughter, and about the ways that understanding our own history helps make us who we are. Brafman is an insightful writer who never falters or flinches in her quest to uncover the hearts of her characters.” CAROLYN PARKHURST, author of The Nobodies Album and The Dogs of Babel
“A riveting and humane account of family pain passed from one generation to the next.... How do we begin to forgive those who injured us? Start by reading Brafman’s unflinching and inspiring novel.” MARY KAY ZURAVLEFF, author of Man Alive!, The Bowl Is Already Broken, and The Frequency of Souls
Having grown up in the Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee in the 1970s, Barbara is traumatically exiled as a teenager after her mother has an affair with a "Shabbos goy" (a non-Jew who performs certain types of work). Barbara finds peace, forgiveness, and closure through the act of performing tahara, the ritual washing of the dead. A fast-paced and compelling debut novel, the book's narrative shifts between the 1970s and the early 2000s.READ-ALIKES Robyn Bavati's Dancing in the Dark, Eishes Chayil's Hush, Eve Harris's The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, and Anouk Markovits's I Am Forbidden.Jewish Book Month, November 6–December 6, provides the perfect opportunity to explore the varied themes presented here. Begun in 1925 when Fanny Goldstein, a librarian at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, set up a display of Jewish-themed books, Jewish Book Week was soon adopted by communities across the country. In 1943, Jewish Book Week was extended into a monthlong celebration observed each year during the month preceding Hanukkah. For more information and to order a Jewish Book Month poster and kits, go to jewishbookcouncil.org.
After decades spent suppressing sad and angry feelings toward her mother for adultery and the destruction of her childhood happiness, it's time for anguished Barbara Blumfield to make peace with her parent and herself.The pendulum swings, slowly, from toxic rage and instability to all-embracing forgiveness in Brafman's debut, a three-generational mother-to-daughter family portrait that almost loses itself in a vortex of introspection. Although now in her 50s, with a husband, successful teaching job, and daughter of her own, Barbara has never been able to confront or forgive her mother, June Pupnick, for her affair with the "Shabbos goy" in their Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee. "My mother torched my home, my shul," Barbara mourns, full of emotional discomfort, guilt for keeping her mother's secrets, and skepticism that she can be a good-enough parent to her own daughter, Lili. Brafman's sober, earnest novel mines this sensitive territory obsessively, focusing on Barbara's yearnings and undigested feelings to the exclusion of almost everything else. Crosscutting between the 1970s and 2009, the narrative juxtaposes the crises of the past—June's transgressions, a child care episode in California that ended badly, a breakdown—with the problems of today, which mainly involve Lili. Barbara's coping mechanisms start to fail in the face of the reappearances of the compassionate rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) of her childhood and also of her mother, newly restored to town by Barbara's brother after her diagnosis of Alzheimer's. And there's more, with Brafman ratcheting up the pressure until a very late shift in perspective that, enhanced by an intervention from Lili, allows ill feelings to be swept away in a tide of comprehension and compassion. Sincere but long-winded, Brafman's story cycles through a limited range of emotional chords, to numbing effect.