THE STOLEN JEW by Jay Neugeboren


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When Nathan Malkin's emotionally unstable younger brother Nachman commits suicide, he is left with no immediate family. So Nathan returns from a solitary retiree's life in Israel to comfort (and perhaps woo?) his sister-in-law in Brooklyn. But the primary plot here concerns a book, not a woman: years ago, before the deaths of his parents, his wife, and his professor son (the latter was killed while trying to stop a subway mugging), Nathan wrote a single novel, The Stolen Jew; its Jacob-and-Esau theme psychologically recapitulated Nathan's own relationship with Nachman; and it achieved great success, even in Russian translation. So now, in Brooklyn, when Nachman's psychiatrist-son Michael persuades his Uncle Nathan to travel to Russia with him, Nathan decides to alter chapters of The Stolen Jew and pass off the manuscripts as earlier drafts. . . which he'll sell in Russia in order to raise cash for Jewish refuseniks there. Thus, Neugeboren thoughtfully explores a web of intriguing themes here: authenticity, truth-telling. family taboos, death-of-a-line, love struggles. And some of the storytelling is fine--especially what's most painful: Nachman's corruscating jokes; Nathan's bad-mannered, litigious search for innocence. Unfortunately, however, the narrative as a whole is vertiginously difficult to follow, with lumps of theme swimming woozily by and dramatic hand-holds slipping away just before the reader tries to grab on. And Neugeboren (Big Man, Corky's Brother, An Orphan's Taley compounds this structural chaos--sections of Nathan's book are also included--with a whirling, brooding style that obscures much of the good material here. Interesting ideas, unsteady execution.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston