Interesting review at the Barnes & Noble Review of Joshua Cohen’s Witz, aka this year’s huge, difficult doorstop-of-a-novel. (For once it’s not a book in translation, unlike last year’s The Kindly Ones and the year before that’s 2666.)
Seems that more than a few people have gone out of their way to impress on me the sheer difficulty of this book. I had a copy sent out to one of The Quarterly Conversation’s reviewers, a person who normally eats books of the likes of The Recognitions for lunch, and he begged off after a valiant effort.
Even the Dalkey Archive–perhaps mindful of DeLillo and Wallace comparisons–was warning me that Witz is fairly difficult. For those who want a crack at this prose, Google Book has a significant chunk of the text available as a preview.
And now, here’s the one-sentence summary from B&N:
At its most polemical and problematic, Joshua Cohen’s Witz is an 800-page, half-million word, vaguely novelistic exegesis on the moral and epistemological impossibility of future Jewish novels.
And here’s the conceit:
Witz throws down its gauntlet in a cracked fable: On Christmas Day 1999, a plague wipes out most of the world’s “Affiliated”—Cohen’s wisely adopted stand-in for the J-word—leaving only the first-born sons. A cabal including the U.S. president has the survivors interned, luxuriously, on Ellis Island. They’re after Affiliated bank accounts and real estate but also, Cohen implies, an inheritance worth much more than money: the sanctifying warrant of group history, and historical victimhood.
Thus the goyim begin changing their names and augmenting their noses through the new practice of “rhinoplastics.” Forelocks and yarmulkes become de rigueur. Mayor Meir Meyer runs New York City, where the decimated Upper West Side is repopulated with observant—imagine that—converts and the Third Temple rises on Central Park South. As a satire of mendacious fourth-wave Holocaust lit—not to mention Christian Evangelical Zionism—Witz does not lack for teeth, though it bites off perhaps less than the prodigious talent on hand could chew. By Passover 2000, all the first-borns are dead, save one.
Our protagonist Benjamin Israelien is now a celebrity messiah . . .
Also interesting to know that author Cohen has “named names, including Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon, as ‘white boys who write to be liked.’”
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