Ice Fire Water: A Leib Goldkorn Cocktail

Leslie Epstein, Author
Leslie Epstein, Author W. W. Norton & Company $23.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-393-04804-9
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Paperback - 264 pages - 978-0-393-32090-9
Open Ebook - 978-0-393-34262-8
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Leib Goldkorn--Vienna-born Jew, professional flautist and earnest rou returning from Epstein's The Steinway Quartet--turns 94 as he narrates this wise, heroically funny novel on a frigid fall morning in 1996. Faced with another day caring for his ill, bedridden wife, Clara, while avoiding the intrusions of his bizarre Upper West Side tenement neighbors, he sinks into memory, invoking ""the bawdery from the past."" In the first section, ""Ice,"" Leib relates his encounters with Norwegian champion figure-skater Sonja Henie as he attempts to free her from Hitler's kiss at the 1936 Winter Olympics and wrecks the plan of his ""manly"" sister Yakhne to assassinate the dictator. He gets invited to Hollywood to write the musical score for Henie's new movie, but this invitation proves to be a sad case of mistaken identity. In ""Fire,"" Leib attempts to lunch with New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani (he maintains the belief that she is a buxom Finn). Here he recalls his misadventures with Carmen Miranda, her Nazi-sympathizing musicians and Arturo Toscanini aboard a Rio-bound ship. In that marine environment, Leib tries to mount his imperfect, epic opera, The Jewish Girl at the Persian Court, based on the Old Testament story of Esther, which Leib believes is a direct correlative of Hitler's reign. He is intent on bringing down the Nazis with his art, especially his former classmate and nemesis, Hans Maltz, the spy responsible for Lieb's family's death in Dachau. ""Water"" follows Lieb to New York's Lower East Side, where he plans to rescue his beloved Hustler Review model, Crystal Knight, from the dungeon in which he believes she is being held prisoner. Each panel in this triptych is ingeniously designed to parallel Leib's combat with his deteriorating physicality. Beneath the masterful linguistic and critical performance, Epstein slyly plants speculations about survivors' accountability, the responsibility of memory and the relativity of taboo. Making clever use of reconfigured syntax and idiom to create his memorable antihero, Epstein maintains an irony-free observational tone (for which his novel The King of the Jews is justly celebrated). Earthy, resourceful and wistful at once, in this novel Epstein once again skewers folly to the post. (Oct.)
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