A revision of Cheuse's 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club, this mystical tale traces the rise and fall of a prominent rabbi, Manny Bloch, who goes into business with a brother-in-law named Mord.
Told from the perspective of Manny's aged mother, Minnie, through long and discursive sessions with her fellow grandmothers, the book mixes multigenerational family saga, Jewish fabulism and corruption story. Manny commits himself to his faith as a boy after his father, Jacob, is crushed to death by an overturned milk cart while working on the Sabbath. At the behest of his family's benefactor, Ohio businessman Meyer Sporen, and prompted by birds who speak to him in the voice of Jacob, Manny goes to Cincinnati to prepare for his calling. Married to Sporen's daughter, Maby, he becomes a beloved and prominent rabbi but leaves the pulpit to join Mord in running General Banana Company, a fruit importer with holdings in South and Central America. He accumulates a vast fortune. But not everything is kosher about the company, Maby suffers from severe psychological problems, Manny's affair with a Holocaust survivor is not going to end well, and we know from the book's Faust epigraph that things are not going to end well for him, either. Other Jewish novelists have plowed this ground with greater originality and comedic bite, but there's nothing secondhand about NPR reviewer Cheuse's singular narrator, whose delivery and gossipy asides belie her hidden depths.
At its best, this story of a Jewish immigrant family tested by fate is as haunting as it is entertaining and as fresh as it was when it was first published nearly 30 years ago.