A collection of autobiographical stories that charts a man’s meandering search for new experiences and ideas.
Author Kaufman is a committed purveyor of ideas, apparently having inherited from his Polish grandfather an insatiable inventiveness. That love of ideas is both born out of and expressed through a peripatetic wandering: the author traversed the globe, visiting Tel Aviv, New York, Italy, Iran, Germany, Ecuador. The book often reads like a travelogue, providing astute commentary on this or that destination. In one memorable analysis, Kaufman notes that the appeal of New Orleans’ French Quarter stems from its unique fusion of revelry and danger. The prose is fairly straightforward, so the narrative hinges on a life very interestingly lived. Kaufman’s life does not disappoint; the book brims with lines like this: “Growing up in the forties in the then Palestine, on the fringes of the Middle East and North African battles in World War II, was exciting if you were a kid.” The tales occur in patchwork fashion, eschewing a full, linear account of the author’s life, but the upside is each chapter can stand alone. Much of the writing is lighthearted and even comical—one story is written from the perspective of a dog—but it still tackles more serious topics like poverty and the pursuit of artistic fulfillment. In one entry, Kaufman’s family repeatedly pawned and rescued a set of silver candlesticks in response to financial distress. Though enamored of their beauty, he came to resent them for what they ultimately symbolized—his family’s precarious circumstances. In another, he won the admiration of a general in Veracruz for recommending that he supply a reception with portable toilets. Later in the collection, he tenderly describes his newborn granddaughter as that “beautiful, sweet, delicately perfect little thing.” The author of several books, Kaufman (The Precipice Option, 2013) is adept at recounting the universality of the idiosyncratic elements of his life; each vignette expresses a general truth about human nature. For example, his obsessive traveling, and the book as a whole, evokes the restless search for meaning that, to some extent, motivates us all.
A charming, often funny series of remembrances.