A rich and riveting work that marries centuries-old folklore to 21st-century queer literary fiction, CITY OF LAUGHTER spans four generations of Jewish women who are bound by blood, half-hidden secrets, and the fantastical visitation of a shapeshifting stranger over the course of 100 years
CITY OF LAUGHTER
by Temim Fruchter
Grove Press, Spring 2023
The exciting debut of a Rona Jaffe Award winner, CITY OF LAUGHTER is a book for the reader of Orlando, Jeanette Winterson, Andrea Lawlor, and the dog-eared Bashevis Singer paperback she still returns to after her first gay kiss. It tangles beautifully with Jewish spirituality and generational silence, with a history of displacement and a present life half-lived for fear of invoking ancestral judgment—and young queer people have a way of upsetting the familial applecart…
Ropshitz, Poland, was once known as the City of Laughter, and as this story opens an 18th century badchan, a holy jester whose job is to make the bride and groom laugh on their wedding day, receives a visitation from a mysterious stranger—bringing the laughter that the people of Ropshitz desperately need.
In the present day, Shiva Margolin, a young woman named for a mourning rite, is a graduate student in Jewish folklore getting over the heartbreak of her first big queer love amid mourning the death of her beloved father. She struggles to connect with her mother, who harbors secrets and barriers that Shiva can’t break. When the opportunity arises for her to visit Poland on a half-formed research trip, she takes it; she’s interested in her mysterious matriarchal line, in particular Mira Wollman, the great-grandmother about whom no one speaks, and who left a piece of herself behind in Poland when she emigrated. But as in most folklore, the answers to Shiva’s questions won’t come so easily. Zigzagging between our known universe and a tapestry of real and invented Jewish folklore, CITY OF LAUGHTER is epic and sharply intimate, both fantastical and hyperreal.
Temim Fruchter was raised in a Modern Orthodox Jewish household, and her faith in communal experience and the spirit world remains central to her identity; this novel was inspired by her own great-grandmother, who was born in Ropshitz. Temim holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Maryland, and was previously a founding member and drummer for The Shondes, a feminist punk band. She has received fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Vermont Studio Center, first prize in short fiction from both American Literary Review and New South, the 2020 Jane Hoppen Residency, and a 2020 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. She lives in Brooklyn.