Most Essential Works of Jewish Fiction of the Last 100 Years

From the Kafkaesque to “Everything is Illuminated” and a childhood favorite: the 50 works of fiction by or about Jews that you must check out.

-Jason Diamond, http://jewcy.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/essential_jewish_fiction

Here are some of those titles in our catalog! Includes commentary from Jason Diamond.

The Metamorphosis
Kafka, Franz
It’s really impossible to rate anything– especially the ultimate “Kafkaesque” work—any higher. The Prague-born writer’s ultimate work about poor Gregor Samsa is one of the most seminal works of Jewish fiction in the last century.
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Portnoy's Complaint
Philip Roth
Trying to pick one book as the ultimate Philip Roth work isn’t as hard as you think. Portnoy is the book you see every new title compared to, even to this day. Goodbye, Columbus made him famous, but Portnoy made him a creepy god.
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Death of a Salesman
Miller, Arthur
Miller’s play tells the tale of Willy Loman, but also works as the perfect parable of the death of the American Dream.
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The Catcher in the Rye
Salinger, J. D.
No list dealing with best fiction of the last century would be complete without Salinger’s ode to teenage angst, and the limited knowledge we have of the late writer tells us that this book was indeed the product of Jewish neurosis.
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The Trial
Kafka, Franz
We recognize that we should have just said “Everything Kafka did” at the #1 position, but that wouldn’t have been fair, now would it?
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Herzog
Bellow, Saul
It’s hard to pick Bellow’s masterwork, but we really have to go with the book that made mid-life crisis into an art form.
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The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories
Ozick, Cynthia
Same as the Herzog: It’s nearly impossible to pick the greatest work from the Ozick canon, but for the sake of argument, we’re going to pick The Pagan Rabbi as the must read collection by this brilliant writer.
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Call it Sleep
Roth, Henry
This is the quintessential Jewish experience of the ghetto known Lower East Side of the early 20th Century. They should issue it to students in Hebrew school.
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Angels in America
Kushner, Tony
It’s almost scary how lacking the 1990s were of “generation defining” art by Jews. Thankfully, Kushner’s tour de force play made up for that by being one of the greatest artistic works in the entire Western Canon, both literally and according to Harold Bloom.
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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Chabon, Michael
The story of how Jews created the modern superhero might not be the most interesting idea for a story, but leave it in the hands of one of modern fiction’s greatest writers, and it’s an epic.
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American Pastoral
Roth, Philip
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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Blume, Judy
A story about a girl growing up in an interfaith family, getting her first period, buying her first bra, and all the other fun issues that go along with being a teenager.
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The Assistant
Malamund, Bernard
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Catch-22
Heller, Joseph
In terms of the greatest dark humor anti-war novels, we’d pick Heller’s book over other Slaughterhouse Five or anything else you could think of.
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Where the Wild Things Are
Sendak, Maurice
Essential? Isn’t every child issued a copy of this when they’re born.
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Maus: A Survivor's Tale
Spiegelman, Art
The only comic book to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. Art Spiegelman’s biography of his father’s life before, during and after the Holocaust, brought the medium to a whole new level.
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Novels & Stories (1959-1962)
Roth, Philip
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The New York Trilogy
Auster, Paul
If anybody is looking for the post-modern mystery book of the last thirty years, look no further.
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The History of Love
Krauss, Nicole
Krauss’ second novel that launched her into the literary spotlight, is the story of a very old man and a very young woman, and how their lives are joined by one very special book.
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Everything is Illuminated
Foer, Jonathan Safran
Upon this book’s release, some called it “genius,” others said it was “overrated.” We’d like to say that it is one of the finest works of “Post-Holocaust Fiction.” Everything is Illuminated is a book for people who want to try and make some sense of the senseless.
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Absurdistan: A Novel
Shteyngart, Gary
As of the writing of this list, Mr. Shteyngart is 3 for 3 in terms of great novels, but the story of the very rich and very rotund Misha Vainberg, is his masterpiece.
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The Mind-Body Problem
Goldstein, Rebecca
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Motherless Brooklyn
Lethem, Jonathan
Is it fair for us to say that Lethem’s 1999 novel set the stage for the current literary renaissance going on in the borough of Brooklyn to this day? It certainly made the “Neuronovel” a trendy thing.
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The Instructions
Levin, Adam
If you’re going to make a big splash, write a 1000+ page book about a Jewish boy from the Chicago suburbs who might or might not be the Messiah. That’s what Levin did with his debut, and that’s why it was our favorite work of fiction in 2010.
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The Trial of God
Wiesel, Eli
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Bech, a Book
Updike, John
The king of the W.A.S.Ps parodies his Jewish contemporaries, and gives the world the greatest work of “Jew envy.”
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The Finkler Question
Jacobson, Howard
Salon said the underdog Man Booker winner in 2010 would “probably distress you on its way to disarming you. Can we pay the novel any greater compliment?” We don’t think so.
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Seize the Day
Bellow, Saul
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For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
Englander, Nathan
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