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Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 07:01 AM

'The Bones and the Book': a mystery unearthed in Seattle's underground

By by Adam Woog
Special to The Seattle Times

'The Bones and the Book'

by Jane Isenberg

Oconee Spirit, 262 pp., $14.95

Issaquah writer Jane Isenberg's "The Bones and the Book" has a broad subtext: the quintessentially American topic of reinventing oneself. More specifically, the novel is a charming and often moving portrait of Seattle's Jewish community, past and near present.

(Full disclosure: I'm a nice Jewish boy and a native Seattleite.)

It's the 1960s. (You can tell by the rampant smoking and the use of cream of mushroom soup as a cooking ingredient.) A UW anthropology professor asks Rachel Mazursky, recently widowed, to translate a diary written in Yiddish. The book, dating from the 1890s, was written by Aliza Rudinsk, a young and pious Jewish immigrant in wide-open Seattle.

Intriguing enough — but there's more: the diary was found in Seattle's underground, along with a skeleton from the same era bearing clear signs of murder.

As Mazursky translates the diary, searching for clues to the murder, she is drawn into the immigrant girl's story. It's one of facing new challenges in a new land and awakening to the possibilities of life outside a constricted religious upbringing.

Meanwhile, two characters enter Mazursky's own life: an elderly, reclusive ex-madam and Mazursky's long-ago crush. (Jewish mothers, take note: he's a doctor!) In time, the past and present story lines resonate with each other.

Longtime Seattleites will have fun spotting landmarks (Frederick & Nelson, Rosellini's 410 restaurant, Temple De Hirsch). And you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Isenberg's liberal use of pithy Yiddish expressions and curses. To paraphrase my favorite: May your tongue fall off in your soup.

Author appearance

Jane Isenberg

The author of "The Bones and the Book" will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Issaquah Library, 10 W. Sunset Way, Issaquah; free (425-392-5430 or http://www.kcls.org/events/author.cfm).

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