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by Zachary Lazar

Pub Date: April 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-316-25403-8
Publisher: Little, Brown

A complex tale involving Meyer Lansky, Las Vegas, an investigative reporter and the murder of an Israeli poet.

Lazar (Evening’s Empire, 2009, etc.) brings all these elements—and more—together as he jumps across decades and intercalates different narrators. At the center of the novel is Meyer Lansky, not the brash young gangster but, rather, the elderly, frail and even pathetic figure who petitions the government of Israel, where he wants to live out his last years, for citizenship. His request is denied, and he’s returned to the United States. We learn about Lansky’s relationship with his mistress Gila Konig, a cocktail waitress, and Lazar also gives us tantalizing glimpses into Lansky’s connections to Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Back in New York, Gila becomes a Hebrew teacher but quits after an ugly confrontation regarding her experience in Bergen-Belsen. One of her students, Hannah Groff, eventually grows up, becomes a reporter and goes to Israel to investigate the death of writer David Bellen, who was both a poet and a belletrist. One of his long essays, like the novel entitled Pity the Poor Immigrant, is an extended meditation on several books involving Las Vegas and Jewish gangsters, specifically Meyer Lansky. (It’s a sign of Lazar’s verisimilitude that the books his fictitious poet reviews are in fact real books.) Hannah both develops and pursues an interest in Gila, who, it turns out, had a relationship with Hannah’s father.

The connections Lazar makes here are complex and artful, though at times bewildering even to discerning readers.