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The End of the Jews
Synopses & Reviews
The ruthlessly engrossing and beautifully rendered story of the Brodskys, a family of artists who realize, too late, one elemental truth: Creations necessary consequence is destruction.
Each member of the mercurial clan in Adam Mansbachs bold new novel faces the impossible choice between the people they love and the art that sustains them. Tristan Brodsky, sprung from the asphalt of the depression-era Bronx, goes on to become one of the swaggering Jewish geniuses who remakes American culture while slowly suffocating his poet wife, who harbors secrets of her own. Nina Hricek, a driven young Czech photographer escapes from behind the Iron Curtain with a group of black musicians only to find herself trapped yet again, this time in a doomed love affair. And finally, Tris Freedman, grandson of Tristan and lover of Nina, a graffiti artist and unanchored revolutionary, cannibalizes his family history to feed his muse. In the end, their stories converge and the survival of each requires the sacrifice of another.
The End of the Jews offers all the rewards of the traditional family epic, but Mansbachs irreverent wit and rich, kinetic prose shed new light on the genre. It runs on its own chronometer, somersaulting gracefully through time and space, interweaving the tales of these three protagonists who, separated by generation and geography, are leading parallel lives.
"The lives of a young Jewish man in the 1930s and a young Czech woman in the 1980s echo across generations in Mansbach's (Angry Black White Boy) continuing investigations into ethnic identity. Tristan Brodsky, the son of New York Jewish immigrant parents, is introduced to pre-WWII jazz and African-American culture by a City College professor who mentors him into a mostly successful, though often controversial, career as a novelist. Tristan's grandson and namesake, known as Tris, is a suburban teen in thrall to hip-hop culture who becomes a novelist himself. (Tris's writerly angst provides some of the funniest scenes in the book.) Then there's Nina Hricek, a talented young Czech photographer who is all but adopted by a touring American jazz group passing through Prague: the black band members affectionately dub her 'Pigfoot' and insist that she must be part Creole. Nina becomes a sort of apprentice to the group's tour photographer. One night, when covering a gig at New York's Blue Note, she locks eyes with a man working at the club — Tris. Mansbach moves effortlessly between U.S. jazz clubs of different eras and Communist Prague, and his dialogue rings true. Believably eccentric characters and an inventive cross-generational plot make this novel of immigration's vicissitudes a delight." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In 1935, 15-year-old Tristan Brodsky, "the sum total of five thousand years of Jewry," is "one week into City College, a mind on him like a diamond cutter." That mind's about to be changed when, despite his parents' urgings that he become a "doctor/lawyer," Tristan signs up for a literature course that meets initially in a midtown bar. Before the end of the night, he will sip his first Scotch, gulp... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) his second, steal his third, meet a mentor, befriend a jazz musician, cab it uptown to a Harlem party, converse with a beautiful girl, get into a fight and vomit. This rousing initiation into literary life sets Tristan on a path to become the voice of the people he thought he left behind. This may sound vaguely familiar, and indeed it is. The hero of Adam Mansbach's panoramic new novel, "The End of the Jews," is an amalgam of Saul Bellow's Augie March in his "wrenching lust for ... a life lived in the present moment, an American life," and Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman in his aspiration to become "a writer (who) can wrestle with the snarled, mystifying whole, with the fact that nothing is simple, that no answer is right, that life is twinned and layered and everything contradicts everything else." Besides evoking Augie and Nathan, Mansbach elicits references to a slew of other Jewish literary figures, both real and imagined. Tristan goes through a Maileresque risk-seeking phase while his poet-wife, Amalia, channels Cynthia Ozick's frustrated muliebrity. Yet Mansbach makes this well-trodden turf his own through powerful descriptive passages and keen social analysis. Here is Tristan during a moment of frustration: "He looked out at the street, imagined hurling his typewriter from the window and watching it explode against the pavement, vowels and consonants embedding themselves in the flesh of gossiping passersby like bits of shrapnel." And just before the fight that leads to the fledgling author's epiphany, his antagonist stands at "a distance that, in the Bronx anyway, in every schoolyard and on every street corner Tristan has ever known, implies the imminent failure of diplomacy." As long as the novel follows Tristan's trajectory, with rich set pieces from a New York of el trains, cigarettes and fedoras, it is compelling. But in subsequent chapters, "The End of the Jews" hip-hops across continents and through decades to develop characters whose connection with the initial narrative is unclear. First, there's Nina, a teenage photographer in 1983 Czechoslovakia, and then there's RISK ONE, a graffitist oddly located in 1989 suburban Connecticut. Clearly, these characters must come together, and indeed they do. RISK turns out to be Tristan's grandson, and sparks fly when he encounters Nina after she's been spirited out of Prague by Devon Marbury Jr.'s itinerant jazz caravan. All of these emblematic Jewish characters find their way to artistic achievement through their interactions with black men, yet success comes too easily for them. Nina's faith that "no matter how fast or slowly life unfurls, the crucial instants can be pinpointed and captured" may be true in the right hands, but it's hard to believe that, within a paragraph, the feckless RISK can give up his adolescent penchant for writing on walls, receive an MFA and, blessed by generation-skipping birthright, obtain a book contract by the next page. Brodsky novels spring forth fully rendered, Nina's photographs are perfectly composed, the jazzman's music is magical. The author seems to reveal a kind of disdain for the less gifted, less progressive. There's a patent dismissal of RISK's mom, Linda, and Nina's parents for lacking their offspring's transformative might. Even Tristan's goyish mentor, Peter Pendergast, is raked over the coals for writing books without the ineffable Brodsky genius. Mansbach also elides over the issue of race. Things may be different in Obama's America, but during the periods covered in the book, racial tensions were high. Interracial romances occurred, but the lovers surely faced social obstacles. By ignoring this, "The End of the Jews" begins to feel like wish fulfillment. The book is a saga of relentless self-creation. It celebrates the exuberance of youth and tenderly acknowledges the difficulties of aging as Tristan's mind and body begin to fail him. Its intelligence and imagination are a delight. Each of the stories has its own integrity; but together, they're too much. "The End of the Jews" might have been more wisely constructed as a sequence of independent variations-on-a-theme stories rather than as a novel. Reviewed by Melvin Jules Bukiet, who is the author of seven books of fiction, and the editor of three anthologies. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Boldly reworking the story of Jewish assimilation around the tale of a familyof fierce individuals, this is the story of anyone willing to fight for love, art, and a place in the world.
The Brodskys are a family of artists and writers thwarted in a restless search for love, happiness, and an identity that fits. Tristan Brodsky, born of the bustling New World shtetl of the Bronx, goes on to become one of the swaggering mid-century Jewish geniuses who remake American culture, while slowly suffocating his wife, a poet with secrets of her own. His grandson Tris, aka RISK, is a graffiti writer and revolutionary (desperately searching for a revolution) who, at the opposite end of the 20th century, replays his grandfather's immigrant story as farce. Across an ocean, Nina Hricek is a teenaged photographer who flees communist Prague with a traveling American jazz band, only to find herself trapped in a volatile affair with a man twice her age before becoming a part of the Brodsky clan. Their stories of creation, identity, family, and infidelity unfold in parallel narratives that jump through time and space, until their dilemmas slowly converge—in the end, the survival of each demands the sacrifice of another.
This is an ambitious and affecting family drama elevated by Mansbach's imaginative storytelling techniques and deep empathy for his characters. Boldly reworking the story of Jewish assimilation around the tale of a family of fierce individuals, this is the story of anyone willing to fight for love, art, and a place in the world.
About the Author
ADAM MANSBACH is the author of the novels Angry White Black Boy and Shackling Water. He currently teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute.
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