May 19, 1997 12:00 PM

by Joshua Henkin

Ben Suskind, a 30-year-old history teacher, is living in San Francisco with his girlfriend and her young daughter when a life-changing letter arrives. A Chicago woman claiming to be his birth mother wants to meet him. Hearing the news, his adoptive parents fly him home to New York City to share a long-held secret: Ben wasn’t born Jewish. Though he long ago strayed from his Orthodox upbringing, so rich and fond are his memories of his comfortable childhood that the revelation shakes the foundations of his identity, sending him on an obsessive quest to make sense of his life.

In a first novel of unusual grace and resonance, Henkin achieves a voice at once sweet and tormented. Swimming Across the Hudson raises deep and fundamental questions—such as, what is the meaning of family after all?—that linger long after the last page. (Putnam, $24.95)

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