3 new books with St. Louis connections

“A Picture Taker’s Journal: Lenses, Cameras, Some Intrigues, Some Liaisons” by David Henschel

David Henschel looks like what intelligence agencies describe as the “perfect spy”—an unassuming, quiet man who would not stand out in a crowd and who is most comfortable behind the lens of a camera. 

Disclosure: Henschel was the principal photographer for the St. Louis Jewish Light, the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center for more than four decades. I worked very closely with him on hundreds of assignments for the Light.

In the course of his long photography career from which he has retired, Henschel has taken stunning photographs of major local Jewish events since 1970 — a treasure trove of images that the Light often uses in historic articles. He has catalogued the more than 4,000 images and can produce prints at a moment’s notice.

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Since his retirement, Henschel has published two novels, based on his own coming of age in St. Louis. In December, he published a third book, “A Picture Taker’s Journal: Lenses, Cameras, Some Intrigues, Some Liaisons” (Original Books, $15.99).

Henschel’s book is truly a labor of love. In it, he describes his hundreds of assignments across several continents, covering major international events, interviewing the very top Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience while they were still trapped in Russia, and some cloak and dagger adventures in Cuba and Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

He was given a rare opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union as an official photographer for the Jewish Light and American Jewish Press Association in May of 1976. He also traveled to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, where he discovered that the Communist dictator generally treated the island nation’s small Jewish population with respect. One can also read about and see the stunning photos of Henschel’s visits to Ethiopia, Sudan and Romania, when it was still ruled by the despot Nicolae Ceausescu.

“A Picture Taker’s Journal” can be kept on one’s nightstand and read a chapter at a time, in no particular order. His itinerary will leave you breathless and grateful that he has recorded his adventures in both words and photographs.

— Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“Lost Restaurants of St. Louis”  by Ann Lemons Pollack

When I first moved to St. Louis in 1974 to attend Washington University, I remember there being only a few marquee restaurants in town, including Al Baker’s. My parents took me there as a special treat and I never forgot the experience. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can almost taste the Caesar salad, tossed tableside, which was the restaurant’s trademark. The rest of the menu was none too shabby, either.

Today, a CVS Pharmacy stands in the place of the venerable Al Baker’s, on the northeast corner at Clayton Road and Brentwood Boulevard.

And while the restaurant scene in St. Louis has certainly grown, blossomed and more than transcended what it was 45 years ago, many old favorites have been lost. 

But thanks to Ann Lemons Pollack, they are not forgotten.

Lemons Pollack turns back time in “Lost Restaurants of St. Louis” (American Palate, $21.99) a collection of more than 50 now-shuttered eateries that had been part of the local culinary landscape once upon a time. 

Remember Fio’s La Fourchette, the classic French restaurant that first opened in 1983 at Westroads Shopping Center, where the Galleria is now, and then moved to downtown Clayton? Writes Lemon Pollack: A business story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered if it would be too pricey to last, charging almost $13 for the least expensive entrée and $25 for the most basic five-course, fixed-price meal. It wasn’t and it did.”

Some of the restaurants included are ones that closed within the last decade, such as Duff’s (in 2013, after 41 years), Riddle’s Penultimate (2010) and the Majestic (2015) while others preceded my time — and likely yours -— in St. Louis. The malt house at Schnaider’s Beer Garden, for example, which closed in 1893, now houses the restaurants Vin de Set and PW Pizza in Lafayette Square. The Three Fountains in Gaslight Square, a French bistro that Lemons Pollack notes received a bad review from New York Times restaurant critic Craig Claiborne, closed in 1968 not because of the unfavorable notice, but rather due to unrest in the neighborhood.

My favorite entries, though, are of course the ones that bring back fond memories of many enjoyable meals gone by. These include The Sunshine Inn (I still dream about its Garden of Eden salad), Zinnia, Jefferson Avenue Boarding House, King Louie’s and Rossino’s, with its subterranean entrance, low-ceilings and rectangular, cracker-thin pizza.

Regardless of whether you’re a foodie or local history buff, or just wanting to soak up some nostalgia, “Lost Restaurants” serves up a culinary trip back in time as satisfying as comfort food.

— Ellen Futterman, Editor

“Appetites and Vices” by Felicia Grossman

Harlequin Romance novels are not usually reviewed by the Jewish Light, but “Appetites and Vices,” (e-book, Carina Press, $3.99, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers), by Felicia Grossman, a Washington University alumna, turned out to be an engrossing novel with real Jewish characters in a genre not usually associated with Jewish characters or concerns.

Grossman, who is Jewish, grew up in Delaware and now resides in the Rust Belt with her husband, two children and two dogs.  Her high school superlative was “most salacious,” and the descriptions of the interactions between protagonist Ursula Nunes, “the least popular Jewish heiress in 1840s Delaware,” and her faux, non-Jewish beau Jay Truitt, a recovering opium addict, are indeed steamy, but within the limits of mainstream romantic novels.

The romance between Ursula and Jay starts off as one of convenience and win-win for both. It allows her to break out of her “least popular” status while it provides him with a stable family connection and marriage that will improve his status as a charming and upstanding young man. The opium addiction gives the novel a poignant currency in view of the present-day opioid epidemic.

Eventually, Ursula and Jay succumb to a growing mutual attraction that is both physical and political. What begins as a “cover” relationship for a short-term gain evolves into a genuine and intense relationship. How Ursula and Jay sort things out within the constraints of 1840s Jewish values and the deadening class strictures of the gentile upper-class in 1840s Delaware makes for a good read.

— Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus