The Lost Shtetl

Max Gross. HarperVia, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-299112-6
Gross’s lively and imaginative debut novel (after the memoir The Mensch Handbook) portrays a Jewish village in eastern Poland that’s been isolated throughout the 20th century. The residents of Kreskol survive pogroms and the hateful superstitions of Christian neighbors (“For generations the priests had said that we poisoned drinking wells.... Or, alternatively, that we used the blood of Christian children in our matzahs, depending on which priest you consulted”), and remain unaware of modern technology and culture. Outside contact is limited to occasional visits from a Roma caravan until a recently divorced Kreskol woman runs away, her ex-husband follows, and baker’s apprentice Yankel Lewinkopf is sent by the rabbi to find them. Traveling with the Roma, Yankel reaches the city of Smolskie, where his confusion and strange behavior land him in a mental ward. Doctors think Yankel may be delusional when he talks about his village, while Yankel has an equally hard time believing the doctors who tell him about the Holocaust. Finally, Yankel is helicoptered back home, accompanied by officials and reporters, and Kreskol must contend with its new fame and all the attendant complications. The narrator, a present-day villager, is well versed in Jewish traditions and human foibles, alternately reminiscent of early Isaac Bashevis Singer and a Catskills comedian. Gross’s entertaining, sometimes disquieting tale delivers laugh-out-loud moments and deep insight on human foolishness, resilience, and faith. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 06/02/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-06-299114-0
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