I, WABENZI by Rafi Zabor


A Souvenir
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A rambling, disjointed, sometimes amusing memoir about a car trip to Turkey and Israel that will apparently not conclude (or even truly commence) until the second volume of this planned four-volume work appears.

Zabor’s bizarre, well-received 1997 novel, The Bear Comes Home, paves the way for this dilatory tale. The idea for this book’s title came to Zabor after someone told him that “Africans” call people who drive Mercedeses “Wabenzi,” and since he plans to buy one, he concludes that he’s a member of that august clan. Early on, he tells of the disturbing deaths of his parents, narratives that he interrupts with flashbacks to his youth and with truly magical stories about his powerful Polish uncle, whose prodigious strength dazzles the author (the elderly man once defeated, with ease, a young and ripped arm-wrestling champ). Zabor makes some shocking discoveries, most notably that his mother thought she had aborted him. He also explores some of his failures, including the time, as a young man, that he arranged for a girlfriend’s abortion; the fetus was five months old. The author—slowly, slowly—leaves New York and heads to England, where he catches up with friends he’s known since the 1970s. He interweaves these recent English escapades with memories from 30 years earlier, including the long, dull closing portion (well over 100 pages) that relates his experiences at a spiritual retreat. These pages sometimes read like an unintentional self-parody. Zabor’s language vacillates between the effusive (some sentences exceed 200 words in length) and the minimalist, the sublime and the banal.

A frenetic example of pinball prose that will frustrate many.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2005
ISBN: 0-86547-583-0
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2005