Somehow I Am Different

Narratives of searching and belonging in Jewish Budapest

Praise for Somehow I Am Different

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.
— Oprah Winfrey

Read Claude Lombart's rave review of Somehow I Am Different in Spectrum, published November 14, 2017.

November 2017

 

Somehow I Am Different was Named Kirkus Rewiews' Best of 2016! Thank you to everyone involved in helping this book come to life. Please spread the word, leave more love-filled reviews, and share Somehow I Am Different with your loved ones.

December 2016

 

"Petersel’s debut explores the revitalization of the Hungarian Jewish community in 21 oral histories of millennial Jews.

Young Hungarians in cafes, synagogues, festivals, and conferences tell of their Jewish religious and cultural identities in this work. They include an Orthodox rabbi, a chef, a rapper, children of Holocaust survivors, a non-Jew with an anti-Semitic past considering conversion, and others, and their diverse personal and work histories result in multifaceted tales.

Each person's story demonstrates his or her winding path to embrace Judaism, whether it be in a historical context or in present-day Hungary. Some interviewees see a primary need to educate people about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism; others want to dispel images of Jews as victims and let the world know about the currently thriving Hungarian Jewish culture. Zsuzsanna Fritz, who was unaware that she was Jewish until she was 16, explains, "we decided that we could create a positive Jewish identification. We created an open door and said whoever wants to come, we are happy to receive you." 

Such visions of flourishing communities are tempered, though, by the recent rise of the right wing; the country is "becoming more and more nationalistic and conservative... more and more excluding toward minorities," says one young adult. "The question is: Do I want to live in a country where the main tendency and the main values are not what I believe in?...I don't have a clear answer for that."

With deft prose, Petersel seamlessly weaves together Jewish voices with evocative descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of her Hungarian surroundings. Her depictions of food, for example, induce pangs of hunger: "spicy mushrooms ignited my palate and my sinuses. Hints of sharp cheese mixed with the comfort of potatoes in the French stew."

An epilogue features excerpts of Petersel's own journal and a contributed essay by Ákos Keller-Alánt on Hungary's contemporary history, politics, and economy, adds an important component to the work.

Although the book focuses on Hungarian Jewish life, its historical context, provocative questions about identity and culture, and captivating writing will engage and educate a very broad audience.

A journey through the lives of young Eastern European Jews that’s not to be missed."

Kirkus Reviews, starred review, April 22, 2016

 

"Read this book if you want to travel backwards and forwards in time in just a chapter. If you love learning about people. If you care about unearthing hidden mysteries about Jewishness, European life, and the intersection of the two. Go with Alyssa Petersel to every coffee house in Budapest, smell the foods she and her new friends eat, feel the wind on your face and the taste of pastries in your belly. With every story of every soul in this book, there is an entire universe. As this author weaves together the rich, colorful tapestry of the revival and survival of Jewish life in Hungary, we have the opportunity to live it alongside her and to benefit from the warmth of the tapestry that she creates with this book. You'll love it, there is no other choice."

Merav Fine, March 17, 2016
Amazon review

 

"This incredible exploration of identity, culture, community and religion will awaken you to a personal contemplation of your relationship to these fields. Alyssa does a remarkable job of creating intimacy between her readers, her subjects, and her personal journey in Budapest, getting to know intricate characters from around the exploding and resilient Hungarian Jewish community. 

Through interspersed lessons in history, Alyssa recalls poignant moments with community leaders in the arts, culinary, music, political, and religious Jewish spaces around Budapest. You will make new friends in each chapter, and start planning your next vacation to these gritty, colorful spots all around this historic and evolving city.

Buy your copy today to run away to Budapest through her writings, and find something new about yourself, maybe, too."

Stefanie Groner , March 17, 2016
Amazon review

 

"The author obviously put so much time and effort into getting everyone's story on paper. I like the different narratives, and I love the voice of the individuals - they are all different. I am amazing at how things have changed for Jewish people. I obviously studied about the Holocaust in school, but we never heard from actual survivors or what happened to Jews after it was "over."

Very interesting and thought provoking. I wonder if I would have given up my religion like so many did. Or would I have been strong enough to continue to be a Jewish person in a world who hated Jews? The book is written in conversational format, descriptions are fantastic, and it feels as though I am there with the author. Great read!"

Heather Marcel, March 17, 2016
Amazon review

 

"Alyssa Petersel channels Studs Terkel for a blogging generation conditioned by 140 character storytelling. An oral history that is delivered in a stylish, captivating, terse prose that holds your interest the whole read through."

 Josh Gryniewicz, January 31, 2016
Communication Director at the Institute for Juvenile Research (IJR),
Writer at PopMattersFreelance Writer.

 

"You will become engrossed in these captivating stories. Alyssa Petersel's clean, elegant prose will take you on a journey to discover the beauty and resilience of Budapest's young Jews. On this journey, she is an observer, a listener, a friend, but equally she is a participant. Moving and full of charm, this book is a meditation on belonging and what it means to be human."

Simon Goldberg, November 30, 2015
PhD candidate at Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies,
former Director of Education at Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre,
former Executive Director Triangles of Truth.

 

"Alyssa Petersel's first book, Somehow I Am Different, is a tour de force narrative and a compelling exploration of contemporary Jewish life in Budapest. In bringing together twenty-one different voices of men and women, and highlighting important topics such as tradition, rebellion, memory, belief, and leadership, she offers the reader a unique glimpse into a little known but robust and dynamic community of Jewish seekers and  strivers. This book is well worth reading for anyone interested in matters of identity and community."

Niles Goldstein, November 2, 2015
Founding rabbi of The New Shul,
Award-winning author of 10 books, most recently
Eight Questions of Faith: Biblical Challenges That Guide and Ground Our Lives

 

“The quality and care in the writing and Alyssa’s human sensitivity have really helped her to capture the richness and reality of life among those who trusted her with their stories. This achievement is remarkable, especially in such a young writer.”

 Alex Russell, July 20, 2015
Rocín Publishing
 

Book talks and presentations are actively being scheduled - please contact Alyssa Petersel at apetersel@gmail.com for more information about partnering in an event or scheduling an interview.

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