MAZEL by Rebecca Goldstein


Email this review


Goldstein expands on a story in her collection, Strange Attractors (1992), in this lively exploration of the ways chance intermingles with determinism in human lives. Sasha Saunders' beloved granddaughter is about to have a baby, and Sasha is so angry she could spit. But has Phoebe married outside her religion to deserve such derision? On the contrary: In the face of her grandmother's determined bohemianism, the delightful mathematics professor Phoebe (first seen in ""The Geometry of Soap Bubbles and Impossible Love"") has gone and married a stable Jewish computer wunderkind and settled happily into a sleepy New Jersey suburb, firmly believing that she can thus ensure a safe and happy future for her family. To explain how erroneous such a conviction can be, Sasha--and the author--must go back several generations to the tiny Polish shtetl where Sasha was born, where nothing unexpected ever happened, and where Sasha's beloved sister, Fraydel, became so bored that she killed herself. Stunned, the family drifted to Warsaw, where Sasha found her calling in the chance- (or ""mazel-"") obsessed avant-garde theater. Had Fraydel not died, Sasha would never have discovered the stage, and if her grief hadn't forced her to seek comfort from Maurice, one of the theater's hangers-on, Sasha's daughter, Chloe, would never have been born. And had WW II not brought Chloe to New York, Chloe may have never conceived her own child with a professor she hardly knew, and Phoebe herself, with eyes so like Fraydel's, might never have existed. So how, her grandmother wonders, can Phoebe placidly await the birth of a son with all the confidence of her shtetl ancestors in life's predictability? Still, chance has given Phoebe a gift for finding happiness, so who's to say she's wrong? Goldstein (The Mind-Body Problem, 1983, etc.) draws heavily on the themes and rhythms of Yiddish folklore while offering her own sparkling wit and philosophical insight, as always, along the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0299181243
Page count: 357pp
Publisher: Viking