A GUIDE TO THE PERPLEXED

Gilad Atzmon, Author, Philip Simpson, Translator , trans. from the Hebrew by Philip Simpson. Serpent's Tail $14 (160p) ISBN 978-1-85242-826-6

Debut novelist Atzmon has penned a comic polemic against his fellow Israelis, set in the near future, soon after the collapse of the Jewish homeland. The novel takes the form of an autobiography by Gunther Wunker, who grows up in Ramat Gan in the 1960s and never feels comfortable with Israel's triumphalist culture. He leaves in the 1980s, believing that "the people around me were becoming more stupid, more blind, more credulous, more pious and less and less in touch with reality." He resettles in Germany, where he becomes an esteemed expert in voyeurism and takes advantage of Holocaust guilt to seduce Aryan women. From there, he observes the demise of Israel and its rebirth as the State of Palestine. Gunther's account of the unraveling of Israeli society is frustratingly vague, relying on familiar Jewish stereotypes ("the Hebrew... was revealed as a type full of bombast and lacking in dignity, exposing his soft belly for money or a powerful gesture"). Atzmon's tone and premise may remind readers of Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles, as well as Philip Roth's novels about Israel. But too many of Atzmon's satirical riffs—on the vengeful pleasure of sex with German women, on Israel's meager cultural and intellectual contributions, on the ironic thrill of a Jew preferring Germany to Israel—have been given voice in Roth's novels with more acuity. Atzmon clearly wants to provoke, but his approach is so familiar that few readers will take the bait. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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