SUSHI IN RAMALLAH by Michael Lieberman


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An American Jew travels to Israel as part of a sponsored tour in this debut farcical comedy.

Adam Solomon has seen better days—he just got kicked out of law school; he’s on the outs with his grandfather after he quits a family enterprise; and he’s about to embark on a trip to Israel as part of The Sababa Project, an excursion designed to entice American Jews to fall in love with their spiritual homeland. As Momo Kafritz, the eccentric millionaire who “operates the largest America-to-Israel travel organization in the world,” explains, home can only be defined by love, and in this case, “JEWISH LOVE” is the only kind that really counts. Lieberman manages a satirical punchline in nearly every sentence—his group of travel companions is largely interested in maniacal drug and alcohol consumption and the relentless pursuit of casual sex. Adam has his own trysts—he quickly romances Liora, the disaffected daughter of Momo, and Sarai, a DJ grieving over the recent loss of her child’s father. Only armed with “broken, badly sprained Hebrew,” Adam obsessively tries to track down a high-tech ambulance his family’s philanthropic organization donated—it was his idea, though he received no credit for it—which seems to have been turned into a heavily armored tactical vehicle. Meanwhile, his sassy bus mate, Caitlin Cohen—from the vehicle, she catcalls Israeli soldiers, “Let’s make Saba-babies together!”—tries to find some passable sushi, a search that takes her to the dangerous occupied territory. 

The author’s plot is frenetically paced and comically manic—he describes Adam’s travel mates as a “group whose babka-toting mothers have reared them on a steady diet of nerves and anxiety.” And when Adam is asked whether his own mom is “a Jewish mother,” he responds: “She loves mah-jongg and worrying about stuff like that.” The strongest parts of the book deliver a lacerating irreverence—Lieberman is unafraid of caricaturing even the most sacred pieties, a tendency that is tantalizingly transgressive. In this regard, his novel, at its best, is reminiscent of Céline and, more recently, Paul Beatty. In addition, Lieberman succeeds, within the indefatigable absurdity, to raise some serious questions about the elusive nature of identity for a diaspora, and the split between secular Jews and orthodox religious adherents. But in place of a coherent plot, the author supplies a meandering road trip, and that narrative shiftlessness can be exhausting. Moreover, he bombards readers with a swarm of one-liners, and that too becomes more tedious than comical; the jokes themselves are often silly rather than clever. For example: “I tried to go to the bathroom but it was occupied,” a character named Eric starts. “JUST LIKE THE TERRITORIES!” Apparently the exclamation mark isn’t enough to signal to readers this is a joke—too much of the book is written in the heavy-handed spirit suggested by that promiscuous capitalization.

A comically astute but often overdone sendup of Jewish American culture. 

Pub Date: March 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-62429-177-7
Page count: 289pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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