KING OF THE JEWS by Leslie Epstein
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Epstein's book is so large and musical and atremble with horrible imagination that only the iron-hearted will come away unshaken. An unnamed Polish city, like all the others during World War II, creates its walled ghetto--the Baluty suburb--and, under direction of the Nazis (""the Others"") forms a Judenrat, a self-governing council to oversee the Jews' own decimation. Chosen council elder is Trumpelman, a quack doctor and insurance swindler but also the one Jew in the Balut whose personality is spacious and flamboyant enough to seem vaguely messianic. With Trumpelman in charge (his picture appears on the newly minted ghetto money--Trumpkies--and stamps) maybe everything may tuna out all right. Then the Judenrat is asked to start providing quotas of Jews for ""relocation,"" for ""farm work."" Who among them could made such a pernicious list? Only Trumpelman: to save a thousand, he'll sacrifice fifty; to keep ten thousand, five hundred; to spare fifty thousand. . . it never ends. Eventually the Jews rebel--there's a general strike--but it's over quickly, and resistance concentrates into cells of boy-partisans. Epstein's scenes of self-defensive sanity--a wedding, a jerry-built production of Macbeth--are especially moving: culture as a last, illusionary tie to life. The sumptuous, Bellovian language here may make some people uneasy: accounts of the Holocaust, real or imagined, are usually more spare and numbed, never so operatic. But Epstein's narrative drive is affecting--it apes Trumpelman's own desperate attempts to hold on to life--and the vividness makes the pity and tragedy pulse.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1978
ISBN: 1590510798
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan