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What does it mean to be Jewish in the 20th century?

For Americans, it’s often easily reduced to clichés: immigration to New York, settlement in the suburbs, retirement in Boca Raton.

But things are a little more complicated in The UnAmericans, a stunning debut story collection from Stanford professor and “5 Under 35” winner Molly Antopol.

Her characters, who span the Jewish diaspora, are anything but caricatures. Here, a young Israeli soldier defends a settlement of religious Americans with whom he has nothing in common. A Prague dissident tries to reconnect with the daughter he abandoned for the cause. And a teenage girl watches as her communist father is dragged off by the L.A. police.

In one of the most poignant tales, a middle-aged Brooklyn man travels to his ancestral home in Kiev with his new Ukraine-born wife, unearthing the deep chasm between two people who might once have grown up as neighbors.

We were impressed with the breadth of Antopol’s project, and the tireless historical and political research it clearly required. But what really won us over was her mastery of voices. We’re still not sure how a thirty-something woman managed to seamlessly morph into a middle-aged man, an elderly grandmother and a WWII-era teen guerrilla fighter all in the same collection.

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