JUST REVENGE by Alan M. Dershowitz



A clunky but compelling novel that dramatizes the question of whether a Holocaust survivor is entitled to revenge 50 years after the war. The law utterly failed Max Menuchen back in 1942, when Captain Marcellus Prandus and his Gestapo unit snatched Max’s family from their Passover Seder, herded them into a nearby Vilna forest, where they were forced to dig their own graves, and methodically executed them all, beginning with the youngest. Max survived only by playing dead. Now a respected professor of biblical studies at Harvard Divinity School, he prepares to rewrite his illustrious obituary as soon as he sees Marcellus’s son Paul, who unwittingly tells him his father is still alive. The case against Marcellus is so strong that it looks at first as if American law will succeed where Lithuanian law failed. But Marcellus is dying of cancer, and when Max realizes that legal tactics will surely delay his incarceration and deportation until after his death, Max determines to become his own law. Killing Marcellus would be too easy; killing his innocent grandson Marc, eight, seems at once insufficient, unjust, and impossible; even tossing a bomb into a family birthday party will not leave Marcellus feeling Max’s agony and despair. Then Max’s protÇgÇe Danielle Grant, searching Jewish law for moral precedents, comes up with a diabolically clever “Maimonidean solution” that will exact proportional revenge—though it will land both Max and Danielle in court, where Max will be defended by his old friend Abe Ringel (The Advocate’s Devil, not reviewed). Abe’s job—to make Max’s revenge seem just to a jury of law-abiding citizens—will tax him, his client, and the lead witnesses to to the limit. Though Dershowitz (The Vanishing American Jew, 1997, etc.) is no threat to Aeschylus as a moralist or Scott Turow as a stylist, his story will leave readers pondering the morality of revenge right down to the final melodramatic twist.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-446-51983-9
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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