cover image The Netanyahus

The Netanyahus

Joshua Cohen. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-68137-607-3

Cohen’s stinging comedy (after the collection Attention) explores Jewish identity and campus politics in a fictional imagining of the current Israeli prime minister’s family and their time spent in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Dr. Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a controversial Israeli historian forced into exile for his views, lands at Corbin College in Corbindale, N.Y., a stand-in for Cornell. Narrating in a rich first person is Ruben Blum, a history professor emeritus at Corbin, who suffered numerous “limp-slung swings and rubber-gag arrows” during his tenure. In lieu of plot, Cohen makes hay of the culture clash between the Blums and the Netanyahus, among them “quiffhaired wife” Tzila and rambunctious sons Jonathan, Benjamin, and Iddo. Uncomfortable exchanges abound on campus after the boozy aftermath of one of Netanyahu’s lectures. (Another professor describes him as “afflicted with the hubris of the wounded intelligentsia.”) Cohen’s writing is vibrant even when ruminating on esoteric details on Jewish identity theories. A juicy afterword titled “Credits and Extra Credit” elucidates the genesis of many of the novel’s components, including Cohen’s correspondence with Harold Bloom (revealed as an inspiration for Blum) and claims that “Bibi” inflated the importance of his father’s work after becoming prime minister. This blistering portrait is great fun. (June)