cover image Witz


Joshua Cohen, . . Dalkey Archive, $18.95 (817pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-588-6

An extravagant poeticism combined with an unbridled imagination burst from each considerable page of Cohen’s futuristic biblical opus (after A Heaven of Others ). Following his singular birth, Ben Israelien survives a peculiarly genocidal, apocalyptic plague, ends up the last Jew on the planet, and must contend with a new brand of religious fanaticism that hijacks the faith and perverts it into a form of Born-Again Judaism for overzealous converts. While these crusaders burn churches and transform roadhouses into synagogues, the secular Ben strives to escape his messiahlike status, eventually embarking on an odyssey across a kitchified, radicalized America in which his face adorns the new currency. A towering experiment, Cohen’s postmodern parable skewers the commodification of religion and decries a ballooning cultural bankruptcy, but navigating this doomsday picaresque’s nearly half-a-million words—many of them neologisms trapped inside labyrinthine, haphazardly punctuated sentences—is itself a taxing odyssey. Following in the tracks of James Joyce, Cohen strives to reinvent the English language, but the result is a kind of epic narrative poem that is only compelling in spurts. (May)