Tag Archives: Jews

Book Review: ‘Jerzy: A Novel’ by Jerome Charyn

“Jerzy: A Nove” by Jerome Charyn

I have been reading a lot of work by Jerome Charyn lately. Once you start, it is hard to resist more. Charyn has this passion for seeking the truth that is very seductive. In the case of his latest novel, “Jerzy,” published this March by Bellevue Literary Press, he is compelled to better understand Jerzy Kosinski, author of the celebrated 1965 novel, “The Painted Bird.” It is a fascinating, and often funny, journey written by one of our greatest writers about the rise and fall of another great writer.

Actor Peter Sellers looms large over the book that follows the making of 1979’s “Being There,” the film adaptation of Kosinski’s novel, starring Sellers as the blank slate turned celebrity, Chauncey Gardiner. In Charyn’s novel, Sellers is not much more than a lost man-child, a blank slate in his own right. Sellers hires Ian, a former bodyguard with a taste for literature, to be his all-around wingman. If there is anything Sellers needs in the way of protection or advice on dinner conversation, Ian must step in.

It is not long before Sellers enlists Ian in his quest to have Kosinski agree to have Sellers star in the movie version of “Being There.” It is hardly a walk in the park as Kosinski detests Sellers. Sellers perpetually complicates matters. He is convinced that Princess Margaret fancies him and that he will marry her. And Kosinski is equally complicated. At the most random moments, something will trigger a dark mood and a longwinded rant.

As is made clear, the vacuous Sellers is tailor-made for the role of Chauncey. And Kosinski has very little to complain about, despite his tremendous resistance to Sellers. But the conflict in this novel is far more deep-seated and sinister. Charyn suggests that Sellers and Kosinski have paid too high a price for fame, have been reduced to mere shells of their former selves; and in Charyn’s hands, both become compelling tragi-comic figures.

It is Kosinski who stands in for a great deal of unresolved issues, including World War II and its aftermath. In his novel, “The Painted Bird,” Kosinski challenges the reader to confront great suffering and atrocities. For such a compelling testament, Kosinski would, over time, secure fame. For Charyn, Kosinski is that large-than-life enigmatic Citizen Kane. The harder they come, Charyn concludes, the harder they fall. Charyn plays with the mixed bag of rumors of plagiarism that haunted Kosinski. Today, in a different context, the same techniques of borrowing from other sources would not raise eyebrows. “The Painted Bird” was a novel, not a memoir. Truth is stranger than fiction. And, as Kosinski said himself, “I am a truth, not facts.”

Charyn seems to take Kosinski to task at every turn. He seems to make a mockery of tender scenes in “The Painted Bird” and recollections from Kosinski friends and associates. In Charyn’s novel, Kosinski, like the villagers in “The Painted Bird,” is fascinated to utter distraction with turning old tin cans into homemade flying rockets. Kosinski, also in Charyn’s novel, prefers to sleep inside a large dresser drawer. Kosinski explains that he’s made too many enemies and his life is constantly in danger. However, Charyn is sensitive to life’s contradictions, no matter what misinformation Kosinski detractors may spread. Such work as “The Painted Bird” speaks for itself. In the excerpt below from Charyn’s novel, Ian, the narrator, concludes that Kosinski did not have ghostwriters but those who helped him, up to a point, with his English:

No baby-sitter from here to Mars could have scratched out the icicle-covered sentences in “The Painted Bird.” And after rereading the book for the sixth or seventh time, I realized that suicide was built into its very fabric, as if the narrator were locked into some kind of frozen grief, and had survived the war on fierce will alone. His entire life had become a chess move or chapters pasted onto “The Painted Bird.” Perhaps fate itself was a Russian doll. And Jurek’s leap into the darkness was another matryoshka, a doll without end.

It was a great deal of bile and misinformation from Kosinski detractors that contributed to Kosinski’s suicide in 1991 at the age of 57. And perhaps it was also part of fate. Anyone familiar with the work of Jerome Charyn knows that he’s most interested in the underdog, the person trapped in a corner fighting to find a way out. As the novel progresses, we see how the life and times of Jerzy Kosinski, the truth and the legend, all add up to a subject worthy of Charyn’s fiction.

What Charyn’s novel can do, with its brilliant satirical bite, is compel readers to learn more about Jerzy Kosinski, one of the great writers of the 20th century. It’s as easy as surfing the net to learn more. If you watch the documentary below, for example, you get a multifaceted look at Kosinski, his life and his work. It’s not a simple story, as Charyn’s novel attests. Truth is stranger than fiction and fiction seeks a greater truth:

“Jerzy” is a 240-page paperback, published by Bellevue Literary Press. For more information, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Hollywood, Holocaust, Jerome Charyn, Jerzy Kosinski, writers, writing

Movie Review: WISH I WAS HERE

Wish-I-Was-Here-Zach-Braff

Zach Braff is such a likable person that we feel we know him. With his new film, “Wish I Was Here,” he plays off that familiarity and offers up a subversively genial story. Braff brings to this a masterful grasp of tone. He is not giving us a typical foray into mainstream comedy. It’s not even a typical foray into independent “cinema.” There’s more heart in this film than you might expect delivered in what one would hope is developing into Mr. Braff’s signature style. You have a common thread running from this new film and 2004’s “Garden State” and that is the universal need to love and be loved, to make sense of the world, and to rise to the occasion.

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Filed under Kickstarter, Movie Reviews, movies, Zach Braff

Jews and Comics Panel at Museum of Jewish Heritage on April 23, 2014

Museum-Jewish-Heritage-comics-panel

In conjunction with the release of “A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York,” the graphic novel by Liana Finck, a panel on comics will be held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on April 23. The panel, “Jews, Comics, and the City,” will include three cartoonists, Liana Finck, Miriam Katin, and Eli Valley. The panel will be moderated by Tahneer Oksman of Marymount Manhattan College.

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Filed under Comics, Comics News, graphic novels, Jewish History, Jews, New York City

Graphic Novel Review: JERUSALEM by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi

Jerusalem-First-Second-2013

How ironic if “Jerusalem” were not to receive wide recognition given that it is helping to set the standard for the relatively young literary art form that we know as the graphic novel. The general public is still getting to know it, compare it, and see what it can do. Let them read “Jerusalem,” the new graphic novel by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi.

“Jerusalem” provides a rich and dense texture to a narrative that invites a thorough reading. You can jump around and check it out but you’ll soon see that this is a multi-layered tapestry. It follows the pace of a good novel without the pretension. It also brings to mind the beautifully melancholy films of François Truffaut. Yakin and Bertozzi bring the colossal subject of Jerusalem down to a basic human level that we all immediately recognize and relate with. The story begins and ends with Motti, a little boy who only seeks love and understanding in his life. You don’t have to worry at all about the history. What you need to know it presented for you in crisp and concise ways.

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This is a story of family. It is these characters, connected by blood ties, that we rely upon to provide us with some truth, something to hang on to, as we witness the chaos and bloodshed that ensues. Compared to its 5,000 year history, Jerusalem was occupied by the British Empire for only a blip of time. But it was what came from that blip that continues to haunt us all to this very day. It was after World War I that Great Britain took control of land from the Ottoman Empire that was to become Palestine. Our story begins with the British Mandate, on the wane in 1946, giving way to a UN Partition Plan in 1947 that gives way to civil war and the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The British occupation of a land and people it had no interest or understanding in was a powder keg just waiting to ignite.

Jerusalem-Boaz-Yakin-Nick-Bertozzi

In Motti’s immediate family, he has three brothers who all respond to the times with fervor. There is Avraham, the war hero, who becomes a Communist. There is David, who works the system to help Jews enter Palestine. And the is Ezra who is compelled to resort to terrorism. Motti is but a boy lost in the shuffle. His father is extremely distant, as present as a ghost. His mother is so stern there is little evidence of tenderness. And he has a sister, Devorah, very quiet and afraid. If not for a cousin, Johnathan, there would be no real friend for Motti. And this is not an easy friendship to maintain since Motti’s father, Izak, is at odds with his brother, Yakov.

Jerusalem-Yakin-Bertozzi-2013

Nick Bertozzi has a drawing style that is at once gritty and warm. But it’s more than that. Bertozzi has honed a style that looks effortless and conveys something of the human soul even in his most simple depictions. Whether it is buildings, or people, or specific characters, there is much to admire about his vigorous, expressive, yet well controlled, style.

Boaz Yakin’s script gives a human face to the conflict that arose as the State of Israel came into existence. We find characters compelled into action. There’s a very touching scene, for example, where the children gather to perform a wedding ceremony between two of them. They do this instinctively, from a need for love and order.

Motti, you will come to see, steals the show even though he appears to forever be pushed to the margins. He’s the little boy full of spirit and a willingness to fight. Just the sort of character you’d find in a film by François Truffaut, the creator of many wonderful films about misfits. There is magic in his films and there is magic in this graphic novel.

The graphic novel, of course, has made enormous strides over the years. We are moving past citing a select group of works as landmarks. The general public is working its way to looking forward to the next great graphic novel in the same manner as comics insiders do. “Jerusalem” has that special temperament about it, not self-conscious, not forced, just there to get the job done right. It is a quality that all readers will appreciate.

“Jerusalem” is published by First Second. Visit First Second here. “Jerusalem” is a 400-page hardcover, available as of April 16, 2013. You can get it here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Jewish History, Jews, Nick Bertozzi

DVD Review: THE FLAT

The-Flat-Arnon-Goldfinger-2013

In the big scheme of things, Nazi Germany is not exactly ancient history but, as this documentary makes resoundingly clear, people can be more than eager to turn a page and move on. “The Flat” demonstrates in so many ways how difficult it can be to find the truth to something once the dust has been allowed to settle. In the case of one Israeli filmmaker, Arnon Goldfinger, his life will never be the same once his grandmother has passed away and it is up to family members to sift through her belongings in her Tel Avi apartment. They find the usual clutter of old books, numerous handbags, shoes, and knick-knacks. It all appears rather quaint and humorous until old relics from the past emerge with a distinctive connection to Nazi Germany. What on earth, for instance, is someone to make of a series of old newspapers featuring “A Nazi Travels in Palestine”? It sounds like a sick joke but it’s far from it.

Documentaries sometimes take the rap for creating more drama than the subject would have generated on its own. Here you have an eager documentarian who, once confronted with bits of disturbing facts, keeps hunting for more facts, and then confirmation of facts, at an appropriate slow boil pace. The camerawork, the tone, the intention of this film feels like a close friend diligently attempting to figure out a problem rather than drama for drama’s sake. What Goldfinger discovers is that his grandparents were close friends with an SS officer and his wife. It was a friendship that lasted well after World War II. But why? Kurt Tuchler, the husband of Goldfinger’s grandmother, was a leader in the Zionist movement. And the SS officer was Leopold von Mildenstein, who promoted, so to speak, the Jewish establishment of a homeland in Palestine.

The story takes on an air of a good mystery as Goldfinger continues to push against polite resistance to reveal secrets. He has met his match with the two central players who seem to stand in his way. Goldfinger manages to strike up a friendship of sorts with none other than the daughter of Leopold von Mildenstein. Once Goldfinger has already made the viewer aware of enough evidence to indicate that Mildenstein was a high ranking Nazi official, his daughter maintains he was never a Nazi in the first place. This conflict is not something that Goldfinger will let stand and, in his own mild-mannered way, he will pursuit it. Then there is Goldfinger’s own mother who is more skeptical than supportive of her son. This conflict will not be left alone either as Goldfinger picks away to expose the truth. Goldfinger is self-aware and realizes what can be accomplished and what may not. At one point, he asks himself what he should do with what he’s discovered already. In the process, he reveals much about what people are willing to tolerate before they must ask themselves what to do with what they have discovered.

“The Flat” is currently available on DVD and you can find it here. Visit IFC Films here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Israel, Jewish History, Jews, Movie Reviews, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Palestine