I am a curious person by nature. When I was little I wanted to be an anthropologist and even if now, as an adult, I find myself working in a boring office (and dreaming of making cakes), I still want to know about everything else and everyone else living in this big old world. So one day I asked the Interweb: “Can you tell me, mighty Google, which books would be good to learn a bit more about Jewish culture?” and this novel was one of the suggestions I got.
What is it about?
This is the story of Ruben Blum, a Jewish American professor in a small university in upstate New York. He is summoned by the head of his department and he is told that, as “the Jewish guy”, he will be part of a panel of professors deciding if they will take on board another “Jewish guy” professor man. What ensues is partly comedy, partly dissertation.
What makes it good?
Ok, I did not know Mr. Cohen is The Next Big Thing in literature. Turns out I see why that is the label they are sticking to his lapel. In a similar fashion to Ishiguro’s last, I am not sure this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, mainly because of its more “academic” parts, which are closer to non-fiction than fiction. I would personally drink whatever he wanted to serve me. Not only because once I was finished I was that little less ignorant, but also because it is rare to find a book that’s a joy to read. Setting aside the actual content of the story, reading his prose made me feel like I was eating the most delicious meal.
The notes on the cover are adamant you are going to laugh a lot when reading it. As we all know, humour and comedy are very personal and I can confirm that I did not, in fact, laugh out loud. But I did appreciate the humour in it and I could see myself laughing if the same scenes described in the novel were transposed to a theatre stage.
See above my comments on this being a joy to read. You will not catch me many times saying so. I wish I could write like him. In this specific book he makes you fully believe that this could be a manuscript from the late Sixties found the day before yesterday. Its excellent mixture of historical prose and flat out comedic sketches are so enjoyable.
This novel fulfilled the brief I gave the Internet, for sure. In its mix of comedy, history, reality and fiction it’s a thought provoking exercise. It shed some light on an ignorant reader (yours truly) on what Israel’s creation meant and how complex is human nature in general, and the concept of “appartenenza” (curiously, this word is very difficult to translate in English. It is a noun that signifies the concept of belonging to something – be that religion, culture, group of people, etc. There, you also leave this blog with a new word).