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Isaac's Torah: Concerning the Life of Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld Through Two World Wars, Three Concentration Camps and Five Motherlandsby Angel Wagenstein
"A mock epic set in unambiguously epic times, Isaac's Torah embodies the humanistic notion that even the most unprepossessing life story should be bound like a Bible. Buoyed by a knockabout levity, like a shtetl cousin to Forrest Gump or Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Svejk, Wagenstein's picaresque story portrays Jewish humor and Jewish wisdom as inextricable twins and time-tested agents of survival." Akiva Gottlieb, The Nation (read the entire Nation review)
Synopses & Reviews
This novel is the saga in five parts of Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld, who grows up in Kolodetz, a small town near Lvov, which, when he is a boy, is part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but which subsequently belongs to Poland, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and then the Soviets again.
Isaac survives the absurdity and horror in Eastern Europe during the 20th century by pretending to be a fool. If this is an old Jewish art, Isaac is a consummate artist. He plays the fool all his life, from his boyhood in Kolodetz shtetl to the time when as an accused war criminal he finds himself in a gulag in Siberia. Inseparable from Isaac's life and story are the Yiddish jokes and fables of Kolodetz. These and the counsel of his dear friend, the rabbi and the chairman of the town's Atheists' Club, Shmuel Ben-David, sustain Isaac through two world wars, three concentration camps, and five motherlands.
In this homage to the grand tradition of Jewish storytelling, Wagenstein puts on record what is perhaps the central story of the last one hundred years and makes from it a sad, funny, warm and wise book.
"Bulgarian author and screenwriter Wagenstein devotes his powerful novel to an affable Jewish tailor from a small town in Eastern Europe who survives the reigns of Hitler and Stalin. Wagenstein himself escaped from a concentration camp and was saved from execution when the Soviets entered Bulgaria. Half a century later, he creates self-effacing narrator Isaac Jacob Blumenfeld, threading Jewish jokes throughout the narrative not only to sweeten the bitter material but also because they encapsulate the humanistic foundation of Isaac's philosophy. Isaac's town of Kolodetz in the Austro-Hungarian empire becomes part of Poland, then the U.S.S.R., before being overtaken by Nazi Germany and eventually reclaimed by the Soviets. He is drafted into military service by each of his first three motherlands. The Germans invade, and Isaac, posing as a Pole, is sent to a Nazi labor camp. Inadvertently revealing himself as a Jew, he ends up in a concentration camp, after which the liberating Soviets exile him to Siberia. Isaac's mesmerizing voice charms through every disaster, and engages and delights the reader without distracting from Wagenstein's profound insights into life's absurdities." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Can one man be a Jew and a Nazi war criminal and a Soviet traitor? The jokes that pepper the text make you read them aloud....Great for reading groups." Booklist
About the Author
Angel Wagenstein is a prizewinning Bulgarian novelist. Isaac's Torah was his first novel, and it has been translated into German, Russian, French, Czech, and now English. Farewell, Shanghai (Handsel Books, 2007), his third novel, won the Jean Monnet award in 2004.
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