After

Melvin Jules Bukiet, Author
Melvin Jules Bukiet, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-14536-1
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-312-16760-8
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Should any writer--especially a Jewish writer--have the temerity to depict the Holocaust and its survivors with irreverent irony and sardonic humor? The answer in the case of Bukiet's explosive, iconoclastic new novel (after the praised short story collection While the Messiah Tarries) is an enthusiastic yes. Bukiet's unsentimental portrait of a motley group of concentration camp survivors who manage to thrive in post-WWII Europe thanks to camp-acquired skills of chicanery, manipulation and inspired opportunism is a tour de force. Both farce and adventure story, a chronicle of suffering and a manual for survival, it is funny and heartbreaking and thought-provoking at once. Meeting by chance after liberation, 19-year-old wheeler-dealer extraordinaire Isaac Kaufman (freed from Aspenfeld, a subcamp of Buchenwald); dentist/forger Marcus Morgenstern (Dachau); bad luck-prone rabbinic scholar Fishl (Mauthausen) and sundry others concoct a variety of get-rich schemes using black market items. Progressing from ID cards to vodka, ball bearings and cigarettes, ringleader Isaac finally discovers a veritable mountain of gold: 18 tons of fillings extracted by the Nazis from Jewish victims, and stored by the Allies in plain sight. Isaac's plan to acquire the treasure--and its ironic denouement--is the culmination of a series of dangerous adventures involving comic pratfalls, miraculous reunions, sudden betrayals and lightning changes of fortune. (There's even a touch of magic realism in the mysterious appearances of Isaac's brother Alter, a master of disguises and perhaps a latter-day messianic savior.) The galloping narrative includes a surreal poker game aboard a yacht in the seas off Germany that is an allegory of the post-war world, and it culminates in a scene that will move readers to helpless laughter mixed with tears. Meanwhile, Bukiet has dared to ask the essential question: What kind of a God would bring such pain to his Chosen People? and to answer it in his own inimitable fashion. Bukiet's mordant humor and insight into human character are matched by his audacity and hyperbolic imagination. It's an incandescent mix. (Sept.)
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