cover image The Yid

The Yid

Paul Goldberg. Picador, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-07903-9

Goldberg’s lively first novel imagines Soviet history as a violent farce that averts a tragedy for Russia’s Jews. The titular “Yid” is Solomon Levinson, a deadly, buffoonish member of a disbanded Yiddish theater company who likens himself to the puppet Petrushka, a “sad, angry clown battling the forces of history.” In the novel’s breathtaking opening, Levinson verbally duels with, and then brutally dispatches, three soldiers sent to capture him as part of a pogrom in 1953. Stalin, a paranoid “alter kaker” holed up in his country dacha, has given orders to “forever rid the Motherland” of its Jewish population. Levinson decides that the only hope for him and Soviet Jews is to stage a play of his own that deposes the genocidal tyrant. The slightly unhinged director, for whom the lines between stage and reality are blurred, assembles a cast to aid him in his improvised plot, including an accomplished doctor, an orphaned young woman, and an African-American Communist disillusioned at finding the same racism in Soviet Russia as he did in Jim Crow America. Divided into three acts, the novel zips along even as Goldberg smuggles in a healthy dose of fascinating Soviet history—its revolutionaries, artists, absurdities, and poisonous anti-Semitism. The result is a stretch of fictionalized history so fully realized it feels as though it actually happened. [em](Feb.) [/em]