Joy Comes in the Morning A Novel

Jonathan Rosen




Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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A Chicago Tribune Best Book
Winner of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award
Winner of the Chaim Potok Literary Award

Deborah Green is a woman of passionate contradictions—a rabbi who craves goodness and surety while wrestling with her own doubts and desires. She has vowed not to emulate those rabbis "who lie around the synagogue like neutered housecats," and has grown restless performing weddings while she remains single. Her life changes when she visits the hospital room of Henry Friedman, an older man who has attempted suicide. His parents were murdered in the Holocaust when he was a child, and all his life he's struggled with difficult questions: Can happiness really come after such loss, or does the very wish profane the dead? Can religious promises ever bring peace?

At the hospital Deborah encounters Henry's son Lev, a science reporter whose life has taken a turn for the worse since he abandoned his fiancée at the altar. Deborah is drawn to his skeptical intensity, and Lev finds Deborah's blend of piety and irreverence unexpectedly appealing. It is a love triangle with God as the third, maddeningly elusive player.

The New Yorker called Rosen's first novel "impressive . . . A highly original addition to the distinguished line of Jewish-American family romances." He has filled the promise of his first fiction in this contemporary story of classic scope, whose characters hunger for love, grapple with faith and doubt, and seek to bind themselves to something sacred in the midst of modern chaos.


Praise for Joy Comes in the Morning

"Rosen achieves something rare in this novel—he gets into the mind of a person who actually feels the presence of God . . . Deborah and Lev fall in love. Influenced by Deborah, Lev begins to take halting steps toward reclaiming his religious heritage. As Lev's faith grows, Deborah is confronted by a series of crises in her personal and professional life. She grapples with doubt and ceases to feel her old closeness with God. In the end, the characters resolve their dilemmas, and the two are happily united. The action takes place against a background of Jewish tradition and observance, yet the characters are very real and contemporary twenty-first-century Jewish Americans, with all the ambiguity that implies. Their struggle to find faith and make sense of the sorrow and joy of life is a story of the human condition."—Multicultural Review

"What a pleasure it is to see such a serious and yet playful novel in this hot-botton time of religion. . . Not since E. L. Doctorow's City of God have we seen such a literary effort to plumb the nature of belief . . . He's irreverent even in the middle of the most reverent of scenes, like a Heller or a Roth complete with sardonic social commentary."—The New York Times Book Review

"At a time when bestselling books on the religious life include bombastic visions of the apocalypse or religion as grand conspiracy [Joy Comes in the Morning] is a minor miracle. It arrives much like the way birds appear to the characters in the book: with a delicate wonder . . . Rosen provides a much-needed glimpse into authentically religious lives. His book is a window into the heart of faith, both its joys and its sorrows . . . A deeply moving story."—The Boston Globe

"[A] smart book . . . With Joy Comes in the Morning, Jonathan Rosen joins the company of writers worth watching."—Sanford Pinsker, The Forward

"A modern Jewish fairy tale."—Susan Jacoby, The Washington Post Book World

"A love story . . . with suave prose, delightful narrative inventiveness, and compelling ideas . . . [and] a wonderfully comic turn of events in the novel's final third."—Chicago Tribune

"It is impossible to avoid being charmed by what can only be described as a modern Jewish fairy tale."—The Washington Post

"[Rosen] is a consummate storyteller, bringing life's events—births, deaths, marriages, manslaughter, and crises of faith—to the reader in an immediate and gripping way . . . [Thus he offers] a gripping read. His understanding of literary tension and his talent for creating engaging dynamics between characters [sustains] the novel and more."—Atira Winchester, The Jerusalem Post

"In her work as a hospital volunteer, Deborah Green, a Manhattan rabbi, encounters an ailing Holocaust survivor—recovering from a debilitating stroke and a suicide attempt—and his skeptical son. To complicate matters, she is beautiful and single, while the skeptical son is a shy bachelor; the romance causes crises of faith for both, as they negotiate their divergent attitudes toward their religion. As the story moves from wedding to funeral and back again, and Deborah officiates at the momentous changes in other people's lives, she increasingly finds her own life empty of the things that she has always counseled her congregation to treasure . . . Rosen's touching novel of Jewish manners thoughtfully addresses the question of whether piety can teach us faith."—The New Yorker

"Jonathan Rosen's joyous grieving second novel . . . offers a rare and vibrant portrait of a contemporary rabbi who is reform, female, and complex."—Steven G. Kellman, San Francisco Chronicle

"In shimmering prose and with uncommon empathy, Rosen creates a cast of characters plagued by profound spiritual crises . . . Not since Saul Bellow has an American novelist created characters so unabashedly determined to unleash their souls, to burst their spirit's sleep."—Andrew Furman, The Miami Herald

"Beautiful . . . Mr. Rosen made a promising debut seven years ago with Eve's Apple. Joy Comes in the Morning fulfills that promise and fills the reader with happiness at the most unexpected moments. Mr. Rosen leads the reader through his characters' emotions with old-fashioned assurance, and his dual mastery of sincere religiosity and searing embarrassment promises an explosive future for the family romance."—Ben Lytal, The New York Sun

"Rosen is a questing and soulful writer [who] convincingly articulates the complex thoughts and feelings of his magnetic characters . . . Deborah, in particular, is a rare and irresistible creation . . . Rosen performs an impressive feat in Joy Comes in the Morning. On the surface, he tells a compelling and easily consumed story, one full of the sort of melodrama, romance, and humor found in popular, plot-driven fiction. But within this familiar structure flows a powerful tale of spiritual struggles veined with keen insights into the timeless questions of life, love, and death. Rosen's charming yet serious novel—the Jewish equivalent in style, smarts, and topicality to Anna Quindlen's and Kent Haruf's bestselling morality tales—grapples with nothing less than the endless conflicts between human nature and our perception of God, the intellect and the emotions, religion and science, the past and the present. Double-edged in its drollery and talmudic in its subtleties and multiplicity of viewpoints, Rosen's radiant novel is a welcoming and satisfying inquiry into matters of inheritance, compassion, faith, and free will."—Donna Seaman, Newsday

"Finally a novel about an American rabbi with sense and sensibility, written with felicity, extraordinary talent and full of knowledge of Jewish life and learning . . . Rosen is a superb writer and a serious explorer of Jewish American life today . . . A wonderful read."—American Jewish World

"Joy Comes in the Morning is a warm, generous, and often funny meditation on family and faith. Even those of us who lack the latter will find much to ponder in this affecting and beautifully written book."—Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook

"Filled with realistic, sympathetic characters, Rosen's second novel (after Eve's Apple) is deeply spiritual, genuine, and engaging. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries."—Library Journal

"Rarely has the life of a rabbi been examined with as much complexity—and sympathy—as in this second novel by the author of Eve's Apple. Deborah Green is by all accounts a highly capable young woman, adored by her Manhattan congregants, adept at both weddings and funerals. But she can't shake her concern that all good rabbis are, as one of her teachers describes, just 'the smoothest fakers around.' In her role as a hospital chaplain, she encounters Henry Friedman, a Holocaust survivor who has suffered a stroke and whose diminished abilities have driven him to attempt suicide. This leads her in turn to Henry's son Lev, a science writer—and religious skeptic—who recently fled from his wedding to a non-Jew. Lev feels overshadowed by his ultra-competent brother, Jacob, and by his friend Neal Marcus, whose energetic mind has been derailed by schizophrenia. Lev's developing relationship with Deborah jump-starts his religious practice, but he struggles with the daily life of having a rabbi girlfriend. Deborah, whose secular family has always questioned her choice of occupation, is beset by lingering questions of legitimacy and professional duty. Rosen, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker and author of the popular nonfiction book The Talmud and the Internet, writes with uncommon assurance about contemporary Judaism, whether the subject is Friedman family dynamics or the insecurities, comedies and small pleasures of everyday rabbinic life. Above all, this is a welcoming and intelligent look at Deborah's efforts to weld her many identities—woman, rabbi, Jew—into a cohesive whole."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jonathan Rosen

  • Jonathan Rosen is the author of The Talmud and the Internet and the novel Eve's Apple. His essays have appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker, among other publications. He is the editorial director of Nextbook.





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