cover image Professor Schiff’s Guilt

Professor Schiff’s Guilt

Agur Schiff, trans. from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. New Vessel, $17.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-954404-16-8

Schiff (The Latecomers) delivers a daring post-colonial satire about a professor who inadvertently gets wrapped up in human trafficking in modern-day Tel Aviv. Agur Schiff, 63, tries to collect a debt from a lawyer who, in lieu of money, “gives” Schiff his cleaning lady, an undocumented migrant named Lucile, as “payment.” Schiff is deeply offended, but he immediately falls in love with the wise and beautiful Lucile. He pays her to work as a companion to his wife’s wealthy, 104-year-old step-grandfather, who soon proposes marriage to Lucile, to the lovelorn professor’s dismay. But before there can be a wedding, Lucile’s husband shows up demanding a blackmail payment, and Schiff tips off the immigration authorities. The husband flees, but Lucile is then herself deported. Distraught over losing Lucile, the professor travels to an unnamed West African capital where the shipwrecked remains of his ancestor’s merchant vessel are now in a museum, and where Schiff reckons with his family’s involvement in the slave trade. The author takes a clear-eyed view of the horrors of slavery and its present-day consequences without slipping into didacticism or sacrificing the humor of his protagonist’s absurd actions. It’s a blistering skewering, and as sharp as it is funny. (May)