THE BEGINNERS by Dan Jacobson


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A good many of Dan Jacobson's novels and short stories have been preponderantly concerned with the divisiveness which make up the South African complex. This is his most ambitious book, a genealogical novel which radiates from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv to London, and extends to almost 600 pages. In it, without ever losing the reader, he manages to synchronize the problems of ""estrangement, pity, guilt, fear, contempt roused at one time or another by every group""-- Afrikander, English, Coloured, Black and Jewish. However most of the direct narrative deals with the sons and daughter (and their first cousins) of Benjamin and Sarah Glickman, and, through them, with the theme of dislocation and dispersion which has dogged the Jew both physically and emotionally through the ages. It is Sarah who first laments that this new generation has ""so little yiddishkeit"" or so it seems. While her daughter Rachel settles down into a loveless marriage with a boy who takes over her father's business, her son David drifts over to England, then to Israel where he finds a permanent way of life, and Joel makes the exodus in reverse. ""Perpetual graduate student, a drifter, a nagger, a tenth-rate luftmensch,"" Joel does not manage to attach himself to anyone or anything until, at the end of what is actually a circular chronology, he comes back to the Gentile girl who had started out working for his father in South Africa. This reduces Mr. Jacobson's long novel rather simply; there are a good many subsidiary characters-- an English postwar emigre, a wild Afrikander, Zionists within and without South Africa, etc. who represent this racialist society and its issues. Some of them however are not too developed or defined beyond these affiliations. However Jacobson is a good writer who has beton better reviewed than read. This book will have the strong backing of the publisher along with the endorsement of the Literary Guild. It is a work of solid intelligence and consistent feeling.

ISBN: 1842321331
Publisher: Macmillan