The Literary Hill

Adem Down Under

Pity the poor golem. Created from mud to do man’s dirty work, Adem dwells alone in his tower, forced to kill anyone who seeks the magical box that is both his treasure and his curse. “Every day is the same,” he thinks. “There is no rest.” Then an angel appears and offers him a path to freedom. All he has to do is descend into the Underworld and bring back the angel’s human lover and he will be granted a soul.

“Mud,” E.J. Wenstrom’s first book in her “Chronicles of the Third Realm Wars” series, is a fantastical tale of gods, demon kings, evil, and love, told in the voice of the golem. Adem is a faithful narrator of his dangerous quest, often muddled, sometimes despairing. “More questions, nothing but questions,” he laments. “Almost wish I could disappear back into my temple tower …”

Yet he presses on, risking his life and making mistakes that could set in motion the third and final Realm War. Will he get a chance to make right what he has broken before the world explodes in cataclysm? Will he ever get a soul? The dark but absorbing mythology of “Mud” reels you in and leaves you wanting more. Thankfully, the second book in the series, “Tides,” is coming soon.

E.J. Wenstrom is a fantasy and science fiction author who calls herself “a DC girl at heart.” “Mud,” her debut novel, has been recognized as a Royal Palm Literary Award semifinalist. Visit her at

The Book of Esther

In “Escape from Sobibor” author Richard Rashke interviewed Esther Raab, one of the 300 Jews who escaped from that notorious Nazi death camp. When the book became a movie in 1987, Rashke asked Raab to serve as its survivor-consultant. And when her name appeared in the film’s credits, it changed her life.

Teachers found her and begged her to come talk to their students – which she did, for more than 20 years. In “Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor: Dear Esther” Rashke offers a sampling of the more than 2,000 missives Raab received, as well as the moving and powerful play he wrote based on them.

In the letters her young fans praise Raab’s courage, sympathize with her pain, and struggle with the horror of what she witnessed (“How could the Nazis kill so many people they didn’t even know?”). Some are inspired to new-found resiliency (“I don’t have my own room, but you stayed in a haystack for months! So I’ll survive.”)

They also provide what Rashke calls “a chorus of hope,” pledging to become living witnesses. “I promise to tell my kids,” writes one. And another adds, “As future leaders of the world, we will make sure that the treatment of the Jews during World War II is not forgotten. Thank you for … [sharing] your story with us.” And thanks to Richard Rashke for sharing Esther’s story with all of us.

Richard Rashke is also the author of “The Whistleblower’s Dilemma: Snowden, Silkwood and Their Quest for the Truth,” “The Killing of Karen Silkwood,” and “Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals.”

Science Sleuths

Matt is on a whale-watching trip, but there’s not a baleen to be seen. Then the captain spots some large dots on sonar and assures him they’ll be in luck soon. But wait. Don’t fish stay under the water? How does the captain know that the whales will actually surface?*

Local publisher Science, Naturally! is once again making learning fun with its new bilingual book for grades 4-8 called “One Minute Mysteries: More Short Mysteries You Solve with Science!” Match wits with the father-daughter writing team of Eric and Natalie Yoder, who have created science mysteries that take only a minute to read but challenge reading, reasoning, and language skills as well as knowledge of science. Now both Spanish- and native English-speakers can enjoy the bilingual edition. For more visit

*A whale is, of course, not a fish but a mammal and has to come to the surface to breathe. But you knew that already (naturally!).

National Book Festival

More than 120 writers, poets, and illustrators will converge on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the 16th annual National Book Festival.

The Library of Congress event has attracted a veritable who’s who of literary lions this year, including Salman Rushdie, Edwidge Danticat, Calvin Trillin, Marilynne Robinson, Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oates, Bob Woodward, and Michael Cunningham. Also appearing will be NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, filmmaker Ken Burns, and Rep. John Lewis, who has published a graphic novel about his role in the civil rights movement.

All literary genres will be well represented and a special International Stage has been set up to highlight writers from around the world. The Main Stage opens with a presentation in recognition of Stephen King and his lifelong work promoting literacy. Everything is free, but the King event will be ticketed. For more visit          

On the Hill in September

East City Bookshoppresents Gregg Shapiro, author of “How to Whistle,” Sept. 1, 6:30 p.m.; Judy Polumbaum, editor of the photography book “Juxtapositions,” Sept. 9, 6 p.m.; Austin Camacho, author of the Hannibal Jones mystery series and the Stark and O’Brien adventure series, Sept. 10, 12 p.m.; ECB Fiction Book Club, discussing “The Stranger” by Albert Camus and “The Meursault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud, Sept. 12, 6:30 p.m.; Cynthia Kane, author of “How to Communicate Like a Buddhist,” Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m.; Ed Luce, creator of the “Wuvable Oaf” series, Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m.; Charles Free, author of “Bygone Days,” Sept. 17, 2 p.m.; Amanda Moniz, author of “From Empire to Humanity,” Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m.; and a reading celebrating Banned Books week, Sept. 27, 6:30 p.m. or 202-290-1636

Folger Shakespeare Library hosts the annual PEN/Faulkner Celebration, with authors reading original works on the theme of “Risk,” Sept. 26, 6:30 p.m. Tickets at 202-544-7077 or

The Library of Congressfeatures journalist Larry Tye, author of a new biography of Robert Kennedy, Sept 14, noon; America’s Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, sponsored with the Hispanic Division and Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, Sept. 16, 3 p.m.; and “America Reads,” an exhibition celebrating the public’s choice of the top 40 books by American authors, continuing through Dec. 31.

The Smithsonian Associates presents “Literary Baltimore,” a day-long tour, Sept. 10, 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; “Roald Dahl: The Curmudgeon Who Built Charlie’s Chocolate Factory,” Sept. 13, 6:45 p.m.; and a four-session book group, “Conversations on Contemporary Novels,” beginning with “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai, Sept. 26, 6:45 p.m.

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