Cover Image: City of Laughter

City of Laughter

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Member Reviews

City of Laughter is an ambitious feat of literary fiction that explores the interwoven narrative of four generations of Jewish women reconciling with their faith, culture and identity. The primary protagonist is a queer millennial named Shiva who feels at a cross-roads in her life after the death of her father and increasingly strained relationship with her mother, Hannah. As Shiva attempts to forge her own path, questions about her own heritage arise and remain unanswered by her mother. As the narrative unfolds, we follow Shiva, Hannah, Sylvia and Mira (tracing four generations of Shiva’s maternal line) across decades and continents.

I really enjoyed this - admittedly I knew very little about Judaism and Jewish folklore going into this, but I learned a lot. Despite it being accessible, there’s no lack of of depth explored in terms of traditions, superstitions and histories that are central to each of our character’s identities. We see how legacies and stories get increasingly fragmented over generations and the irreversible erosion of culture unless we take deliberate action to preserve it.

Through each of our four characters, so many facets of identity are explored; namely queer rebirth, motherhood, obligation, love, and isolation. Each character feels really well developed and I enjoyed seeing the deliberate parallelism in the experiences between generations. The atmosphere also breathes a life of its own; a key theme is the importance of space and place, and how our surroundings witness burgeoning relationships and hold key memories.

City of Laughter also takes such a unique approach to exploring the idea of possession in both the literal and figurative sense. Possession acts in the tangible and symbolic sense to great success, and there is several passages I cannot wait to annotate once I get my hands on a physical copy.

The book is incredibly ambitious in the breadth of themes it tackles, and generally very successful. Some details can feel deliberately subtle at times and connections that initially appear tenuous end up playing a bigger role later in the story. This can make it a bit muddled or confusing if you’re reading this over a long period of time - so I’d suggest really sitting down with this and giving it your full attention. If you do, I’m sure you’ll find the culmination of story arcs really satisfying.
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This book is a beautiful exploration of intergenerational trauma, Jewish culture and queerness. Each of the four women is given a literary format to show their story, from free prose to letters to recounting from the extradiegetic and mystical narrator. The interwoven folk stories complete the mosaic of Jewish culture, personal history and (queer) identity. 
In the beginning, the novel felt very repetitive, so much so that I feel like it would have benefited from being 50 pages shorter. The prose was beautiful but often very much tell and not a lot of show. I would have liked to explore the feelings of Shiva, Hannah, Syl and Mira instead of being told what they were experiencing. I felt like this was especially prominent in the prose sections concerning Shiva and Hanna. About halfway through the novel starts to pick up speed and subsequently moves on to more subtle storytelling, though it never really moves out of the 'tell' territory.
Nonetheless, this story was an enriching read. It was fascinating and touching and has made me think about my place in the world and in my family.
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City of Laughter by Temim Frutcher follows four generations of Jewish women with widely varied experiences in life but all touch on themes on themes of spirituality, family, and love. Shiva, the woman of the fourth generation, comes to study Jewish Folklore where her past will come to recontextualize her life thus far and in the future. 

To preface, I think a novel that goes through time in a non-linear way is one of the hardest things to write and I applaud Frutcher for being able to write something cohesive with this plotline. From reading the summary of City of Laughter, I was sure this would be a new favorite. However, it fell flat for me. I was very drawn by the past generations, actually, and found myself losing interest in Shiva when she was the main narrator. While there is obviously an emotional heart to Shiva's point of view and journey, there is a juxtaposition in tone between the women of the past and Shiva that I found to be too great. 

While this novel is not for me, it seems that many other reviewers enjoyed it-- so read it for yourself! This book is not for someone looking for a quick and easy read; to fully enjoy City of Laughter, make sure you have the time to fully dive into the world.
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A beautiful book that weaves through many generations of Jewish women.  I found this book very enlightening.  I felt that the author went on tangents and took you away from the story at times, but they always came full circle.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to access an ARC of this story!
As a Jewish queer woman, I was intrigued by this plotline. While there were parts of it that I loved, such as Shiva’s storyline, the focus on her maternal family line, LGBTQ+ rep, and Jewish representation, the intertwining folklore storylines often confused me. I felt as though I was ultimately left with a lot of questions unanswered at the end of the story. Maybe it’s because some of it was a bit over my head.
Definitely a unique book and I’m very glad to have gotten the chance to read it!
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Beautifully written, well-balanced, and unique, I enjoyed City of Laughter far more than I could have expected. The way Temim Fruchter explored Jewish folklore, queerness, mother-daughter relationships, loss, and more was intriguing and oddly fulfilling. I often don't like stories with a mythical or folkloric element to it, but I think Fruchter did this exceptionally well where it complemented the other aspects of the story without overpowering them and turning fully into fantasy. She walks that line well and the overall effect left me feeling enchanted in the best of ways. If Shiva were a real person, I would absolutely be friends with her.
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Unfortunately, did not finish before losing access. The start seemed beautifully written however. Scored as a 3 due to this.
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“The tale of a young queer woman stuck in a thicket of generational secrets, the novel follows her back to her family’s origins, where ancestral clues begin to reveal a lineage both haunted and shaped by desire“

This story follows Shiva’s personal growth via her family’s matriarchs and their Jewish folklore, connecting herself to her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Fruchter’s writing is beautiful and lyrical without being pretentious, and I loved it. I was in love with how queerness was shown as wholeness, with the connections between generations of women, and seeing Poland and NYC so robustly.

The Messenger was so alluring, too. Who is this queer figure, connecting the lives of all of the women? Bringing them intrigue and love and gifts? I don’t know, but I loved the mystery in these love stories.

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for a copy of this eARC in exchange for my honest review.
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A beautiful, touching story. This is something that would be appreciated by almost any reader. It was impossible to resist the stunning writing and the themes were all very interesting. Highly recommended.
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While I was initially extremely excited for this book based on the description and prologue, I fear my expectations were not met by the end of the book. While CITY OF LAUGHTER contains many individual elements I would ordinarily love in a book--an intergenerational family mystery, queer characters, fantastical elements, grand philosophical questions--I felt the book struggled to draw everything together in a satisfying way. The Jewish folklore elements were incredibly compelling and the passages written in the early days of the City of Laughter with the visiting healer were among my favorite parts of the book, but they were far too infrequent and interjected the main story in ways that left me confused. The main character, with whom we spend the vast majority of the book, was far less interesting to me than her mother or even her grandmother, and I found myself wishing we had spent more time with them. In addition, I felt we were often told in a kind of essay format how the main character would think or what she had gone through in the past to inform her decisions now, as opposed to seeing those character traits or experiences in action in the present-day. The plot often felt contrived for her benefit, putting challenges and successes in her path at the exact time the narrative needed them, in ways that did not feel realistic. While I think Temim Fruchter is a brilliant writer, many passages veered overwritten, and I found myself wishing for more restraint. I will be following Fruchter's career to see what else she puts out in the future, but unfortunately this one did not live up to my expectations.
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Fruchter’s City of Laughter gives us insight into the lives of ordinary women, dealing with grief and looking for fulfillment. The story circles around Syl and Hannah, daughter and mother, struggling after the loss of father and husband. They try to find new occupations to move past the grief. But it’s also a story of family history and being “possessed” by grief due to death and grief due to loss of close relationships. Syl is possessed by the mystery of untold family stories, and both have an obsession with the supernatural aspects of everyday life.

Without the psychological and historically influenced insights of the characters, these would be normal activities of two people embarking on new paths, perhaps new careers.  Syl embarks on researching family roots. Hannah embarks on endeavors in a new friend’s business. If you like learning what makes people tick in these circumstances, you’ll enjoy the book.
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So I hear yourself wondering, why would I read this? Well, I have your answer:
- Exploration of culture, history and folklore
- Intergenerational story 
- Beautiful prose

This is a story of Shiva and her family, their grief and generations of mystery being slowly pieced together with Temim's beautiful writing. 
Shiva has just lost her father and is now stuck with her mother who she feels a great deal of distance from, she never talks about her mother who died the night Shiva was born and never wants to talk about her own past. Shiva, feeling stuck in life and full of grief decides to make a change; going back to college. 
As the story unfolds, we learn of her Mother, Grandmother, and great-grandmother's story and how they shaped one another. 

All in all this was a beautiful read.
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This book is a beautifully woven story about finding yourself and your history. It follows multiple women across multiple generations of one family as they explore who they are and where they came from. The author did an amazing job of giving each character depth and development while at the same time showing the interconnectedness of family.

I was provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Unfortunately I didn't get along with this one. I had really high hopes as it sounded like just the kind of book I'd love, but the writing really let it down for me. It was often contrived, felt like it was trying too hard. The pacing also dragged and there was far too much telling over showing here.
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This is easily one of the most delightfully Jewish novels I've ever read, and I was recommending it with joy to other Jewish reviewers before I'd even finished. 

Shiva (yes, truly the name of someone raised Orthodox) has recently lost her beloved father, and that has forced her and her mother Hannah to face their difficult relationship. As the story progresses, we see that Hannah was shaped by her own troubled relationship with her mother, Syl, who was also shaped by the trauma her mother Mira had experienced. These generations of Jewish women become the basis for an exp[oration of Jewish folklore, history, and culture, especially as Shiva goes to Poland to explore both Jewish history and her own family's past life in a shtetl. 

The prose in this book is incredible, and I highlighted so many insightful and moving sentences as I was reading. The relationship between mothers and daughters was one of my favorite parts (unsurprising if you know me and my interests), as was the incorporation of queerness and the way it became a path to freedom beyond cultural expectations for almost every generation. 

I never quite fully wrapped my head around the mythical narrator and who or what it really was, but I enjoyed the other parts so much that I'm not troubling myself about that too much (and maybe we aren't supposed to know?). Once I surrendered to my confusion, I was really just immersed in the story. 

Strangely, there is a quote from Ocean Vuong that I thought about several times while reading this book. "Being queer saved my life. Often we see queerness as deprivation. But when I look at my life, I saw that queerness demanded an alternative innovation from me. I had to make alternative routes; it made me curious; it made me ask, 'Is this enough for me?'" 

City of Laughter seems to show the same, that queerness is a path to joy outside of the expectations of marriage, or silence, or fear. I am so glad we have this queer Jewish story to find joy in.
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Wow. This book publishes in January and it’s already one of my favorite books of 2024. The prose is stunningly gorgeous, the kind of fresh, immersive literary voice that inspires me to write. 

“City of Laughter” centers on Shiva, a newly out queer Modern Orthodox Jew reeling from the death of her father and her first breakup with her first great love. She feels stuck, working a series of meaningless jobs at nonprofits, and burning with a desire to know more of her family’s history and by extension herself. But her family is secretive and emotionally unavailable, generations of women who were taught that to be different was to be possessed by something evil, something worthy of superstition and fear. 

Feeling like she has nothing left to lose, Shiva enrolls in graduate school to study Jewish folklore, driven to obsession by the scholar, storyteller and playwright Ansky, whom she suspects was queer. As a child she watched his play The Dybbuk with her father, who was the bridge between the dark secrets and repression of her maternal line and laughter. 

Thus follows a cerebral tale through four generations of women, one brought up to believe that she was possessed as a baby when a window was left open and she was left alone, the belief so strong that she goes mute instead of giving in to her wild, unnatural laughter, silenced by an abusive father who excused the abuse as mystical. The curse is passed down through the generations. 

Shiva goes to Poland to find answers, under the guise of a research project into the impact of storytelling and family lore on Jewish folklore, and finds herself in the vibrant but hidden queer community there, and the whispers of queer desire throughout the generations of her bloodline.

The characters in this really were wonderful. I’m not normally a fan of multigenerational family sagas with secrets and betrayals, but I was taken with this one. Each of the stories between Mira, Syl, Hannah and Shiva were so intimate and personal, so layered, I felt like I knew them even if I didn’t like some of them. 

I also respected the Jewish rep. I learned so much about Poland and family traditions from this book. I thought it would get into the wartime history more but it talked around that time and centered more on the hardships and joys of daily family life through the decades, the hardships and abuse that queer folks and women who were different faced. 

I like how the curse and the possessed spirit turned into a misunderstood spirit, a seeker like Shiva, but I almost felt the supernatural elements were the least interesting part of the book. They were so subtle they were almost superfluous. I found the culture, the folklore, the beliefs and traditions that bind families across generations, the fear and the interpersonal relationships far more interesting than ghosts, demons and dybbuks, although it was the central thread of the story so it needed to be there. The pacing just felt off with it. This was more a story about feminism, queer desire, mothers and daughters, and family than anything else. 

All in all, a beautiful, brave book by an important new voice. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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City of Laughter” …..a wonderful debut novel by Tamim Fruchter, a queer non-binary writer who was raised in a Modern Orthodox Jewish household……begins with a prologue filled with 
‘phenomenal’ storytelling symbolism. 
The imagery - purpose - and deeper complexity was brilliantly written… a fabulous setup to begin the novel. 
To share details….(about the ‘fantastical-stranger-visitor’ would spoil the self-reading-fun. 

Ropshitz, Poland (a small town) was once known as the City of Laughter…..with history of the badchan ….a type of Ashkenazic Jewish professional entertainer, poet, sacred clown, and jester-master-of-ceremonies originating in Eastern Europe. The badchan was an indispensable part of the  traditional Jewish wedding who guided the bride and groom through the stages of the wedding ceremony.   

Let this above information ‘just be’….for awhile…..
once ‘Chapter One’ follows the prologue….we meet an irresistible protagonist…..Shiva Margolin.  
If Shiva seems grouchy and miserable at the start …’s with good reason.  Her father had just died, her first queer-love relationship with Dani was on shaky grounds — and she and her mother, Hannah, were not exactly gliding smoothly together in their relationship either.  
Shiva also wished she knew more about her great-grandmother, Mira…
Shiva believed if she could “find and illuminate whatever piece of the past was being held hostage somewhere in the annals of her own family, she’d come unstuck, feel more whole”.

Eventually Shiva goes back to school— which leads to visiting Warsaw.    
     “So I want to go. To go to Warsaw, to go to the archives, to walk the streets there, to see ‘The Dybbuk’ where it was first staged. To meet my own possession at its source.
Shiva paused for a quick breath. And I may not even know exactly what I am writing about until I get there. What my thesis topic will be, what the talk will be about. What my work deals with. But I know I’ll find it in Warsaw. You’ll have to trust me. Please”. 

Temim Fruchter is a terrific writer….a great storyteller. The journey she takes us on has great visual panoramic allure ….with folktales, superstitions, spirituality, Jewish history, family generational drama, mystery, secrets….(secrets that surprised me), with characters to root for. 
In the authors notes, 
            Temim shared…..
“The folktales I’ve written anew here are a kind of homeage to my rich Ashkenazic Jewish oral tradition; how folktales are created and recreated in kitchens and around fires; how they shift shape. 
These invented stories are lovingly wrought from the expansive spirit of the folktales my parents read to us on Friday nights; the lore that raised me”.  

A total treasure to read…..(hard to believe this is a debut novel).
The literary skill Temim Fruchter shows us — with her multi-faceted wit, depth, humor, and social history authenticity… a significant- intelligent- rigorous delight to read.  

Highly Recommend ….. (my Jewish friends should love it too)
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