Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy

Gary Barwin. Random House Canada, $24.50 (344p) ISBN 978-0-7352-7952-0
A middle-aged Lithuanian Jewish man dreams of becoming a cowboy in this darkly humorous and affecting yarn. Motl decides to set aside his Western novels and father a child as a rebuke to the Nazis approaching his home in Vilna in 1941. But first, he must retrieve his testicles from a Swiss glacier, where they were accidentally shot off by poet Tristan Tzara during WWI. He hits the road with his acerbic mother, Gitl, and after they’re separated by the Nazis, Motl hides in the woods with some fellow Jews. Motl and fellow refugee Esther pose as Karaites (a Jewish sect declared not racially Jewish by the Nazis) and are given papers to deliver to Himmler in Berlin. They stumble west in a series of wild, narrow escapes, hoping to find Gitl. While infiltrating the Vilna ghetto, Motl worries they’ll be uncovered as “Jews pretending to be Karaites pretending to be Jews.” Later, they meet a group of Polish people posing as Lakotas, then join a circus, where they’re offered one last unlikely escape plan. While a conclusion with 80-year-old Motl lacks the punch of the preceding adventures, the fantastic one-liners deepen the poignancy of the horrors. This inventive, madcap novel is a stunning testament to Jewish humor and survival. Agent: Shaun Bradley, Transatlantic. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/30/2020
Release date: 03/09/2021
Genre: Fiction
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