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Other titles in the American Literature series:
Witz (American Literature)by Joshua Cohen
Synopses & Reviews
On Christmas Eve 1999, all the Jews in the world die in a strange, millennial plague, with the exception of the firstborn males, who are soon adopted by a cabal of powerful people in the American government. By the following Passover, however, only one is still alive: Benjamin Israelien; a kindly, innocent, ignorant man-child. As he finds himself transformed into an international superstar, Jewishness becomes all the rage: matzo-ball soup is in every bowl, sidelocks are hip; and the only truly Jewish Jew left is increasingly stigmatized for not being religious. Since his very existence exposes the illegitimacy of the newly converted, Israelien becomes the object of a worldwide hunt . . .
Meanwhile, in the not-too-distant future of our own, "real" world, another last Jew--the last living Holocaust survivor--sits alone in a snowbound Manhattan, providing a final melancholy witness to his experiences in the form of the punch lines to half-remembered jokes.
"An extravagant poeticism combined with an unbridled imagination burst from each considerable page of Cohen's futuristic biblical opus (after A Heaven of Others). Following his singular birth, Ben Israelien survives a peculiarly genocidal, apocalyptic plague, ends up the last Jew on the planet, and must contend with a new brand of religious fanaticism that hijacks the faith and perverts it into a form of Born-Again Judaism for overzealous converts. While these crusaders burn churches and transform roadhouses into synagogues, the secular Ben strives to escape his messiahlike status, eventually embarking on an odyssey across a kitchified, radicalized America in which his face adorns the new currency. A towering experiment, Cohen's postmodern parable skewers the commodification of religion and decries a ballooning cultural bankruptcy, but navigating this doomsday picaresque's nearly half-a-million words — many of them neologisms trapped inside labyrinthine, haphazardly punctuated sentences — is itself a taxing odyssey. Following in the tracks of James Joyce, Cohen strives to reinvent the English language, but the result is a kind of epic narrative poem that is only compelling in spurts." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
One of the great comic epics of our time: the Last Jewish Novel about the Last Jew in the World.
A reminder of the serious import of the literary novel, the novel as linguistic artifact.[Cohen] reminds us what literature is: the self-conscious representation of the world using language.Cohen packs whole histories and destructions, maps and traditions, into single sentences. He employs lists, codes, and invented syntax with the sure hand of a visionary, his prowess and passion further emboldened by a boundless sense of scope.The kind of ambitious, intelligent novel of ideas that will demand your full attention for 824 pages and repay you by rewiring your cerebral cortex in a fundamental way.The great lyrical sweeps of Cohen"s writing must be applauded.[N]ow that so much Jewish literature has been written and rewritten again in English, now that we have so many authors and classics, it is all the more rare and inspiring that Cohen, scandalously overlooked in America, especially by the Jewish literary community, continues to delve deeper and further with each book into an inherited terrain while making of that holy ground these beautifully uncharted territories with their own maps and legends.Entertaining, adventurous and delightfully absurd.This anarchic energy recalls Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, but what really distinguishes Witzis it language and Cohen’s vigorous assault on the sentence as a unit of simple communication....a brave and artful attempt to explore and explode the limits of the sentence.
About the Author
Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in New Jersey. He is the author of five books, including the novels Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, A Heaven of Others, and Witz. Cohen's essays have appeared in The Forward, Nextbook, The Believer, and Harper's. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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