David Hirshberg

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Jacobo's Rainbow

Post Publication Reviews:

JACOBO’S RAINBOW, DAVID HIRSHBERG’s second novel (it follows MY MOTHER’S SON) is, without a doubt, one of the best literary novels pertaining to the American Jewish experience that’s come along in quite a while. This book is creative, clever, and highly imaginative. It’s got everything you want in a good read: beautiful language, fascinating characters, and a riveting narrative that makes you not want to put it down. It’s like one of those Russian nesting dolls where you keep opening it up to find another one inside until the secrets are revealed and there’s no more mystery to be solved. 

This book takes you back to the the1960s (“the Sixties”), the turbulent decade of the Free Speech Movement, The Freedom Summer, and the Vietnam War. You find yourself dropped into this period with a parachute that lets you observe as if you were gently floating down without touching the ground. And there’s a lot to see: how the free speech movement defines what kind of speech is free; how anti-Semitism creeps into the landscape like a weed that can’t be expunged; how class, race, and religion are at the heart of people’s actions; how the original Americans are treated (non-spoiler alert: not well!); and how war can define alternative views on patriotism.  

Hirshberg is skilled at showing us how people aren’t necessarily what they appear to be at first glance. And he is like a magician who has you going for the feint, such that when one of the several reveals are made you don’t say, “Hey, I knew that was coming!”

Each of the characters’ speech and actions are true to what real-life people would say and do. That’s no mean feat, considering that there are Ashkenazic, Sephardic, and Mizrahi Jews, as well as an important native American character, student protest leaders, and a chief of police who’s having trouble with the new fault lines in American society. There is no exaggeration, caricature, or hyperbole. All characters — flaws and all — and scenes are true-to-life. What’s especially haunting is a chapter that takes place in Vietnam. You’ll get a feel for what it was really like, not some Rambo-type fantasy. And it wasn’t pretty, other than being pretty awful. One of your takeaways is likely to be that we haven’t learned our lessons. 

In addition to the jungles of Vietnam, the book’s settings include a remote isolated village west of the Rio Grande (it got me thinking about Brigadoon) and a fictitious university in New Mexico. The land (and the water) are prominent features, and they are reflected in the magnificent cover. 

As you get near the end, you realize that while Hirshberg is writing about the 1960s, in truth, he’s writing about today. He makes you think hard about what’s happening on college campuses nowadays in terms of how free speech is now defined and how anti-Semitism has come roaring back. And in writing about Vietnam, you get a feel as well for US involvement in 21st century foreign wars. 

Although the themes are serious, the book is exciting, and you feel as if you know and can identify with the lead characters. It’s provocative and fun at the same time. What could be better than that?—Howard Jay Smith, author of Meeting Mozart and Beethoven in Love, Opus 139.

 

Setting aside the Great Depression of the 1930s, there are two unforgettable decades that stand out in American consciousness over the past one hundred years: the Roaring twenties and the sixties—and if you’re left wondering what all the hubbub is about, you can’t do better than to check out some of the great books based on those periods: The Great Gatsby, say, or The Sun Also Rises; and for the sixties, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Helter-Skelter, and Slaughterhouse Five would be a nice start.

In Jacobo’s Rainbow, David Hirshberg is making a bid to join the short list of very special novels about the tumultuous sixties—a time of reckoning as the US finally began to confront systemic racism, poverty, its aggressive use of military force, and other societal ills. Today’s headlines betray a country still engaged in that reckoning fifty-plus years later.— Matt Sutherland, Editor-in-Chief, Foreword Reviews

 

A deftly crafted and inherently fascinating read from first page to last, "Jacobo's Rainbow" by David Hirshberg is an impressively scripted historical and literary novel that is set primarily in the nineteen sixties during the convulsive period of the student protest movements and the Vietnam War. Specially and unreservedly recommended for community, college and university library Historical Fiction and Literary Fiction collections. James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review

 

In Jacobo’s Rain­bow, Hir­sh­berg presents a how-to guide for polit­i­cal unrest, art­ful­ly paint­ing a pic­ture of how caus­es take root and find their lead­ers, and depict­ing the pub­lic and pri­vate per­sonas of false prophets as well as the men­tal­i­ty of hang­ers-on and mobs. Anti­semitism is a major theme in the nov­el, which Jacobo becomes aware of from his Jew­ish friends’ sto­ries, which illus­trate the pre­car­i­ous­ness of Jews’ lives around the world.  Hir­sh­berg explores many oth­er themes, from the treat­ment of sol­diers return­ing from Viet­nam to the issues fac­ing Native Amer­i­cans. With a fast-mov­ing plot, well-drawn char­ac­ters, and an inspir­ing mes­sage, Hir­sh­berg has giv­en read­ers an engag­ing, thought­ful, and orig­i­nal story.—Renita Last, Jewish Book Council 

 

“…the book is riveting, and about half way through the story is a credo — a statement of faith recited every Saturday night chronicling the journey of this community and, in a sense, of the Jewish people as a whole — which I found extremely moving. Mr. Hirshberg … is an extremely imaginative and talented writer. His first novel, My Mother’s Son, which I reviewed in 2018 on these pages, was equally well written and satisfying.”— Aaron Leibel, Washington Jewish Week

 

Jacobo’s Rainbow is a fictional memoir that reads true to life with its elegant prose and historical detail! Like a masterpiece on display, this story is rich with layers waiting for the reader to pull them back to reveal hidden truths…Jacobo’s Rainbow resonates with authenticity that captivates readers from page one!—Tricia Hill, IND’Tale Magazine

 

Pre-Publication Reviews:

A beautiful novel set in the past but perfectly, scarily, relevant to our current moment.—Gary Shteyngart, author of Lake Success

 

Jacobo’s Rainbow is a sweeping examination of the unique buckle in time that was the ‘Sixties,’ told from the perspective of the ultimate outsider—a young man who was born and raised in the tiny New Mexico town of Arroyo Grande, a town so isolated, it didn’t even legally exist. Jacobo’s journey takes him from that remote enclave to a college campus, where he becomes immersed in the Free Speech movement, and to the battlefields of Vietnam. His insights and observations about society, his peers, bigotry and anti-Semitism are both trenchant and currently relevant to the culture wars and threats to free speech we see on our college campuses and society at large today. Jacobo’s Rainbow is a deeply moving, sensitive, and profound novel—a definite must-read.—Marcia Clark, author of Blood Defense and Final Judgment

 

Blending together historical events and wonderfully imaginative settings, David Hirshberg explores the American Jewish experience in this evocative novel of self-discovery, belonging, and the complexities of identity.—Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return

 

Although set in the nineteen sixties, David Hirshberg’s Jacobo’s Rainbow is infused with prescient relevance today.  This hero’s journey shines a light on activism and protest on a college campus as well as the idea of patriotism and serving in the army.  Most profoundly, it depicts a search for identity as young Jacobo Toledano struggles with the blurry distinction between who people are and how they present themselves in public.  I loved this novel for its timeless message: that building a home of one’s own means leaving the safety of childhood and being resilient to the knocks the world hands you, true for an individual as well as a tribe.—Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg, author of The Nine and Eden

 

David Hirshberg propels the reader into the mix of the turbulent nineteen sixties, as if this novel was constructed from personal conversations between the characters and the author. They are all agents and witnesses of their times with intersecting ethnicities, religions, races, genders, languages, and ages. Characters in this captivating narrative hide, discover, and reveal their true inner selves as they interact with events and each other. This is a saga that drops bread crumbs for the discerning eye and gratifies the reader who recognizes them and revels in the aha moments when the pieces come together. Hirshberg is immensely skilled at conjuring plausible events that serve the narrative. He captures the essence of anti-Semitism experienced by Jews of different hues and origins. The author represents with imagined accuracy the experiences of young men and women caught up in the Free Speech movement and in the jungles of Vietnam.—Debbie Wohl-Isard, Editor, La Granada

 

In Jacobo’s Rainbow, as he did in My Mother’s Son, David Hirshberg explores that stunning moment when youth gives way to maturity—and uncovers the lasting effects of that profound transformation. The year is 1963, and Jacobo, who was born and raised in a sheltered, idyllic New Mexico village, enrolls in a university and quickly becomes embroiled in the turmoil and passion of that one-of-a-kind decade. As he begins to find his voice and take stock of his individuality, he also sees, in surprising fashion, how truly connected we all are. A highly original novel by an inspired chronicler of fact and fiction that reveals our darkest instincts while celebrating our innate humanity.—Barbara Josselsohn, author of The Lilac House and The Bluebell Girls

 

Jacobo’s Rainbow is a powerful, electrifying glimpse into the life of a young student advocating for the Free Speech Movement and protesting the Vietnam War. It’s a story about truth, loyalty, tradition, and the shortcomings of human perception, an all-too-often occurrence for those who haven’t yet experienced much of life. Hirshberg’s keenly nuanced characters will remain with the reader long after the last page.—Crystal King, author of The Chef’s Secret and Feast of Sorrow

Copyright 2021 David Hirshberg