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The Mikvah Queen

Published Date: August 27, 2016

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In the anti-everything hippie culture of early ‘80s Ithaca, New York, what rituals can a girl borrow, steal, or invent to make sense of puberty? Jane Schwartz, a lonely, Talmud-quoting, disco-worshipping eleven-year-old girl, builds a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) in the porta-sauna of her middle-aged neighbor, Charlene Walkeson, in hopes of saving Charlene from the ravages of cancer. Will Jane also save her fierce, fragile self? Out of fragments of disco, feminism, cooking shows, Christian salvation narratives and Jewish law, Jane forges her own theology. The Mikvah Queen offers no radical transformations; it is instead a story of incremental changes and incomplete human connections. Winner of the Dana Award for the Novel and a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, The Mikvah Queen is a remarkable exploration of postmodern Jewish identity, cancer, the confusion and promise of ‘70s alternative culture, and the power of ritual.

Author Bio

Dr. Jennifer Natalya Fink is a professor of English at Georgetown University, a literacy activist, and an all-around hell-raiser. She is the author of two award-winning novels, Burn and V (both from Suspect Thoughts Press), and is the founder and Gorilla-in-Chief of The Gorilla Press, an organization that promotes youth literacy through bookmaking. Nominated for the Pulitzer, National Jewish Book, and National Book Award, Fink is also the winner of the Dana Award, Story Magazine s short fiction award, and twelve other awards. She is the U.S. judge for the Caine Prize for African Literature (known as the African Booker ), and has published widely on literature, literacy, and hybridity, most notably in the anthology Performing Hybridity (Minnesota), which she co-edited with May Joseph.


The first time I ever heard about how hard it was to be a left-handed person I whirled around and began to sympathetically imagine the difficulties of phone booths and toll booths and doors all of it, the world, arranged for the comfort of righties. If anyone had next explained to me that part of what was so uncomfortable about being female was exactly the same — not just the machinery of the world but its dictionaries and handbooks, the bibles and schools-then I would have known why maneuvering it all in this car, my body was so inexplicably hard. With dazzling humor and devastating weirdness and skill The Mikvah Queen is one of the first books I would hand to a girl in the new world where we begin to tell it all and even celebrate the excess of females and their perversities and beauties the way everything generally likes to celebrate men. Jennifer Natalya Fink s book is excitingly odd and gross and disgustingly new. It s so good to go this far with a thought and a world as if it were your own. I think Jonathan Lethem, I think Phillip Roth and then I think no, she went past. She s shooting by the discomfort in them. I feel welcomed in The Mikvah Queen like a human for a change. Is this sci-fi? Females imagine and laugh? Their bodies are real and slipping into a bath they ask why. This compulsively readable book wants to know. —Eileen Myles

I find the characters in The Mikvah Queen haunting, and so vividly and movingly drawn. Their dilemmas are so clear, and their connection filled, symbolically, with such potential. —Rebecca Walker

The Mikvah Queen is an intense meditation on the female body its contamination and purification, and who gets to control those concepts but at heart it s also a story of compelling friendship between a girl and a woman, a coming-of-age Jew and a facing-death WASP, as each meets the challenges of change. —Michael Lowenthal

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