THE EIGHTH SIN by Stefan Kanfer
Kirkus Star


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Book reviewer Kanfer has no doubt read more first novels than just about anybody, but that hasn't kept him from making enough first-novelist mistakes--packing too much in, showing off, overemphasizing--to keep this talented first from being a real success. But talented it is, especially in the opening chapters as we meet narrator Benoit, a Gypsy concentration-camp survivor relocated to London and adopted at age twelve by a beguilingly odd trio--US Communist prof Max, a ""fur-bearing mammal who had blundered into the species homo sapiens by mysterious means""; his new English wife Risa, a horse-faced painter of minor talent and great zest; and hanger-on Mordecai, whose life is devoted to the indiscriminate spread of Yiddish. This menage shifts to N.Y.'s Upper West Side, where Ben ignores his natural artistic gifts to become a thieving reform-school rebel, Max suffers blacklisting, Risa runs off with a black activist--and Kanfer heavyhandedly interweaves Ben's virtually subject-indexed concentration-camp memories (""When will it stop, this ceaseless revolution of the cerebrum, always backward, backward to the recesses of obscenity?"") with ""ITEMS"" excerpted from Holocaust literature. And the past becomes present when 16-year-old Ben catches sight (just after his first time with a prostitute) of Elezear Jassy, a Gypsy who collaborated with the Nazis and was the executioner at Ben's camp. But the vengeance motif (the eighth sin is Wrath) will have to wait-about 20 years and 150 pages--till Ben has been put through the stuff of too many first novels: career ups and downs as a portrait painter, failed marriage to a chanteuse, alcoholism--none of which is convincingly connected with Ben's Gypsy-adopteesurvivor background. Nor does Ben's wisecracking, terribly literary voice jibe with what the character has done and must do: kill Jassy in the West Indies and roam the earth, wondering, ""Did I truly extinguish the evil that is supposed to reside in my own skin? Or have I fed it?"" Trying hard to entertain and tackle a Big Theme and cover all the deadly sins, Kanfer has fudged and finessed too much, and a simple, believable core is not to be found here. What is to be found is a flurry of exuberant writing, a marvel of a supporting cast, and the promise of better, less all-in-one novels to come.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1978
Publisher: Random House