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Kalooki Nightsby Howard Jacobson
Synopses & Reviews
Max Glickman, a Jewish cartoonist whose seminal work is a comic history titled Five Thousand Years of Bitterness, recalls his childhood in a British suburb in the 1950s. Growing up, Max is surrounded by Jews, each with an entirely different and outspoken view on what it means to be Jewish. His mother, incessantly preoccupied with a card game called Kalooki, only begrudgingly puts the deck away on the High Holy Days. Max's father, a failed boxer prone to spontaneous nosebleeds, is a self-proclaimed atheist and communist, unable to accept the God who has betrayed him so unequivocally in recent years.
But it is through his friend and neighbor Manny Washinsky that Max begins to understand the indelible effects of the Holocaust and to explore the intrinsic and paradoxical questions of a postwar Jewish identity. Manny, obsessed with the Holocaust and haunted by the allure of its legacy, commits a crime of nightmare proportion against his family and his faith. Years later, after his friend's release from prison, Max is inexorably drawn to uncover the motive behind the catastrophic act — the discovery of which leads to a startling revelation and a profound truth about religion and faith that exists where the sacred meets the profane.
Spanning the decades between World War II and the present day, acclaimed author Howard Jacobson seamlessly weaves together a breath-takingly complex narrative of love, tragedy, redemption, and above all, remarkable humor. Deeply empathetic and audaciously funny, Kalooki Nights is a luminous story torn violently between the hope of restoring and rebuilding Jewish life, and the painful burden of memory and loss.
"The examination of a Jewish subculture — replete with ample interjections of misogyny, bigotry and humor — is a familiar scaffolding upon which to erect a novel. It's a sardonic worldview that has played its hand at numerous literary tables, most predominantly by Philip Roth, the genre's king. For a modern reader of Jewish literature, then, Howard Jacobson's 'Kalooki Nights' seems woefully anachronistic.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) The conventions it attacks had their heyday 50 years ago, right around the time of that Patimkin wedding in 'Goodbye, Columbus.' One can only conclude that on Britain's comparatively sheltered shores, the shocks the London-based Jacobson attempts to administer are more dramatic. The novel is a convoluted combination of family saga and semi-tepid murder mystery, focusing on its narrator, Max Glickman. Glickman is a Jewish cartoonist with a hefty persecution complex and a series of anti-Semitic non-Jewish ex-wives. He traverses his past and present, recounting the story of his childhood friend and neighbor, Manny Washinsky, whose obsession with the Holocaust as a child led him down the unlikely path of murdering his own parents by gassing them in their bed as they slept. The Kalooki of the title is a card game that seems to be exclusively played by nattering Jewish housewives. It is an obsession of Glickman's mother. During her weekly sessions, Glickman learns the lessons of his heritage, which don't seem to extend much beyond sharp-witted observations but include an obstinate inclination toward insubordination. For Glickman (and Jacobson), Judaism, with its cumbersome Holocaust history, convoluted morality and tired stereotypes, has as much substance as a house of cards. This overly simplistic shtick is played out repeatedly. In one of many expressions of his sense of pathetic grandeur, Glickman recounts listening to a lecturer read a passage written by Isaiah Berlin on Leo Tolstoy. The passage recalls Tolstoy as 'at once insanely proud and filled with hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and self-abasing, tormented and detached.' To which Glickman (Jacobson's proxy?) responds, 'Me, of course — it was me Berlin was writing about, me as I would be at the end, the most tragic of the great cartoonists, omniscient and doubting everything, Jewish and yet not, a torment to myself, beyond human aid.' In 'Kalooki Nights,' Jacobson proves himself a cartoonist much like his protagonist (whose epic work is entitled, bluntly, 'Five Thousand Years of Bitterness'). Arguing that abstract art is still a violation of the prohibition on graven images in the Bible, Glickman tells Manny, 'Abstraction doesn't solve it, Manny. Abstraction's a con. Only ridicule solves it. Only mockery keeps you the right side of idolatry.' Surely, there is a middle ground between idolatry and mockery. But it is this ground that 'Kalooki Nights' keeps holy, if only by allowing it to remain untouched. Jordana Horn is a writer and lawyer in New Jersey." Reviewed by Martin KettleCarlos LozadaGuy VanderhaegheJordana Horn, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Jacobson is quite simply a master of comic precision....That the things he is joking about are so dark and dangerous makes the jokes even better. And it dawns on you that the book isn't really just about being Jewish at all. It's about being human." Nicholas Lezard, Evening Standard (London)
"Howard Jacobson's tour de force....You don't have to be Jewish to love this book, just human." Simon Schama, The Guardian
"Howard Jacobson...is incapable of writing a predictable sentence. [Kalooki Nights] is likely to be the funniest book published this year [with] prose sharper and brighter than any of his contemporaries." Will Buckley, The Observer (London)
"In Kalooki Nights [Jacobson] has taken his skills to a new level and produced a novel of genius." Michael Bywater, The Independent
"Jacobson...writes hilarious and unpredictable sentences....Kalooki Nights begs many questions; the reader will have to be satisfied with never learning the answers." Los Angeles Times
"Jacobson's prose is pure pleasure — concise, markedly insightful, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny — and his message, ultimately, is a heartbreaker. An exceptional novel." Booklist
"Jacobson is often compared to Philip Roth, but his is a sweeter voice." Library Journal
Longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and hailed by The Times (London) as "work of genius," Jacobson's exquisitely written, audaciously funny novel explores the countless questions of postwar Jewish identity.
About the Author
Howard Jacobson is the author of four works of non-fiction and seven novels, including The Mighty Walzer, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic writing, and Who's Sorry Now, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. He has a weekly column for The Independent and regularly reviews and writes for The Guardian, The Times and The Evening Standard, Jacobson has also done several specials for British television. He lives in London.
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