Brett Ashley Kaplan’s novel, Rare Stuff, intertwines whale and human culture in a journey that highlights the need to protect whales and our shared planet. Her support of whale conservation with the proceeds of her novel will ensure the story of whales and our shared ecosystem does not end with her book.

    Regina Asmutis-Silvia,

Executive Director, Whale and Dolphin Conservation


Rare Stuff is a beautiful, bewitching novel built on interlocking stories: a cosmopolitan photographer named Sid, grieving the death of her father, finds an unfinished manuscript and a suitcase full of clues about the long-ago disappearance of her mother. We follow Sid on a breathless search for her mother, and we dive deep into her father’s unfinished adventure tale, in which Yiddish-speaking whales and a bold teenage girl set out to save the world. By the book’s close, I had become friends with its characters: I wanted to jump into fast-paced conversations about life and literature with Sid, Andre, Dorothy, Aaron, and Sol, and I wanted to take part in the extraordinary multi-generational (and multi-species) community they built together.  Rare Stuff tells the story of the very best adventure: the quest we all undertake to understand and care for our parents, our children, and the world we share together.

     Jamie L. Jones, author of Rendered Obsolete:  The Afterlife of U.S. Whaling in the Petroleum Age


Rare Stuff is a love song for being on a planet mired in senseless suffering—for maintaining the thread of humanity by weaving epiphany. The writing sings, like whale songs—haunting, lyric, crisp and taut—stretched across the page in perfect pitch. A complex space of resonant correspondences. Famished archivist, tender scholar, the Eye hears abiding fascination with history’s ghosts, familial and expansive, ecological and ontological. Readers become detectives on the literary hunt for buried terma treasure in Moby Dick—entangled in cruel depictions, killings of sentient beings—yet engaged in history-mystery. What are we as humans seeking here? What do we find in the ocean depths of consciousness? What buried wreck, what scintillating treasure.

     Heather Woods, author of Light Bearing and Bundling


Like the overstuffed suitcase that Sid Zimmerman finds of her dead father’s stashed away arcana, Rare Stuff holds several things at once—an homage to Melville, a paean to New York City, past and present, and, at the same time, a cri de coeur for preserving the natural life of our planet. It is a must-read!

     David Wright Faladé, author of Black Cloud Rising


In this richly imagined novel, Brett Ashley Kaplan skillfully and playfully moves between points of view, incorporating journal entries, novel excerpts, book reviews, and nuanced environmental commentary. Following a vivid cast of characters which includes a young photographer documenting interracial couples, a Guadeloupean Jewish Melville scholar, a disappeared amateur cetologist and even Yiddish speaking whales, this inventive novel takes us on a wild adventure from the urban streets of New York’s East Village to the depths of the sea. Tender, confident and bold, Rare stuff brims with vitality.

     Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Art of Leaving


With inherited clues stuffed in an old suitcase, Brett Ashley Kaplan takes the readers into a painfully joyful journey of racism, survival, loss and love. Skillfully and with much sensitivity, Rare Stuff connects bloody history to the most burning issues of our times. The biggest achievement of this novel, with the help of  Yiddish-speaking whales, is that it “gives history an optimistic twist.” A hopeful twist much needed these days!

   Sayed Kashua, author of Track Changes, Second Person Singular, Let it Be Morning, and Dancing Arabs



Brett Ashley Kaplan Directs the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies at the University of Illinois where she is a professor of Comparative and World Literature and Director of Graduate Studies. She publishes in Haaretz, The Conversation, (picked up from Conversation), Asitoughttobemagazine, AJS Perspectives, Contemporary Literature, Edge Effects, and The Jewish Review of Books. She has been interviewed on NPR, the AJS Podcast, and The 21st, and is the author of Unwanted Beauty, Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory, and Jewish Anxiety and the Novels of Philip Roth. She’s the editor of the forthcoming Bloomsbury Handbook to New Approaches in Cultural Memory Studies and co-editor (with Sara Feldman and Anthony Russell) of the volume in progress, Blewish: Contemporary Black-Jewish Voices. She’s at work on a second novel, Vandervelde Downs, about the recovery of Nazi-looted objects found in a Vietnamese Refugee Center in provincial England.


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