Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Jewish History

I'm a goy, Bush, as I suspect you are, too. I could, actually, consider myself something of an honorary Jew, having been married to one for now these thirty-four years, plus a few days. But I choose not to. I choose not to identify myself with any faith or religion--although, as I've mentioned at odd moments in the past, I'm closer to Buddhism than any other. I guess one reason that I'm hesitant to declare myself such is the sense that it would feel like an act of presumption on my part: I still feel like a newcomer.

All this, though, Bush, because I'm reading a terrific book called The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn. You know who the "Six Million" are, right? The victims of the Nazi Holocaust. This is not a review. I have read barely a hundred pages out of many hundreds more in this huge tome, but it already seems to me like one of those truly important works of enormous dedication that should be read by everyone--but probably won't be. In the hundred pages I have read, I have learned more about the history of the Jews--ancient, medieval and modern--and more about Judaism, the religion, more about the culture and the ethos of the Jews than I have in thirty-four years of seders. And I don't mean to be trivial.

I have also learned a lot about my wife, Ellie's story-telling techniques, which have often mystified me, sometimes even aggravated me in the past. As you know from reading these pages that we write together, Bush, I'm a straightforward kind of a guy when it comes to the story. I aim for the concise. I aim for precision and clarity. I like to get to the point, get it said, and move on to the next. Ellie, on the other hand, meanders. She'll start a story and digress into three others before she reaches the conclusion of the first one. She adds-on endlessly. Sometimes, good goy that I am, I sit there squirming, impatient for her to get back to the point. She usually does. But not always. Sometimes that too gets lost.

If I mention all this, it's because reading Mendelsohn's book has made me realize something about the effectiveness of Ellie's approach--maybe something, too, about its origin. Mendelsohn meanders shamelessly, with abandon, weaving in and out from one topic, one story-line to the next, so that we're sometimes trying to keep up with three or four narrative threads at one and the same time, from Genesis and the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, to the horrors of the medieval hounding of the Jews from country to country, the pogroms, and the final atrocity of the Holocaust, even as we follow the intricate personal story of the author's family from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. I tell you, Bush, it's quite a feat. And a marvelously rich and compelling tapestry of Jewish life, history and thought.

I'm looking forward to the rest, though I admit it's quite a slog in terms of the sheer time of the read. But Mendelsohn engages us both intellectually and emotionally in his search for those six lost relatives, and is willing to narrate the journey toward their discovery only slowly, with all those asides. The asides are, after all, a good part of the journey.

They say you've been engaged in a reading contest this year with your Rove, Bush--to see how many books you can read, I presume. This one won't help you along in that contest, because it requires more time and patience even than those Shakespeare plays you're purported to be reading. Still, I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the peripatetic, often tragic, and very human history of the Jews. Aside from anything else, it helps one better understand that fierce, uncompromising, even aggressive dedication to the preservation of the tiny piece of territory that was set aside for their state in the wake of World War II.

More of this later, I'm sure. In the meantime, welcome home, Bush. Are you home yet? I presume. But the news media are not paying much attention if you are. Is it possible that you have already become, er... irrelevant?

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Carly said...

P: Alec Baldwin has become somewhat astute in political matters, and the saavy New York guy proves it when he gets on Bill Maher and Larry King. On King's show last night, he was asked should they impeach? His answer was no, they should keep the jerk in office, (because he'll make another mistake every day), so they can use it all against the Repub retards into the presidential election.
I think that is a tremendous idea.
I would add, they should kick him around a lot while they're investigating everything and undoing all the subsidies to big oil, etc. They should hammer away on the stuff they pushed like privatizing social security. Keep it all before the public in the form of investigation results.

Anonymous said...

Without speaking for my brother, thanks very much for the kind words about The Lost. I'll make sure he sees your site!

You also might be interested in reading this column about The Lost and the president by the Washington Post's Richard Cohen. It was really well done as well.


Happy Thanksgiving.

Matt Mendelsohn

PeterAtLarge said...

Matt, so good to hear from you. I'm reading about you every day...! By the way, I can't respond directly, since Blogger insists on hiding your email address. Should you feel inspired to be in touch, try emailing me at PeterAtLarge@cox.net. And thanks to your brother for his wonderful work. Cheers, PaL