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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Yid

Paul Goldberg

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Yid

Title: The Yid
Author: Paul Goldberg
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 301 pages
Availability: The Yid - US
The Yid - UK
The Yid - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : wildly but entertainingly spun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B- 11/2/2016 Christian Holub
The NY Times . 21/1/2016 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 21/2/2016 Zachary Lazar
The Washington Post . 25/1/2016 Glen David Gold

  From the Reviews:
  • "There’s a lot going on, which makes it hard to keep track of everything. The book’s more vivid sequences sometimes get lost in a tangle of bilingual dialogue, alternating formats, and shifting tenses." - Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The Yid is a novel, not a heavily researched historical document. More important, Mr. Goldberg comes up with a team of Yiddish-speaking jokester-superheroes who are at the heart of his story, and who make it their mission to avenge countless acts of anti-Semitism, both real and anticipated." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "(T)he book never really detaches itself from the mechanics of action stories (I suspect it doesn’t want to). Like many thriller writers, Goldberg devotes countless pages to his scrupulous research. (...) This kind of data can be interesting, but while reading The Yid it sometimes feels as if Goldberg had put together a thousand index cards, each containing some salient fact or historical episode, and wrote his novel in order to include them all. (...) If you are inclined to be charitable, you will take The Yid for the frolic it wants to be, and not worry too much about how something can be horrific and hilarious at the same time." - Zachary Lazar, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Yid is darkly playful and generous with quick insights into the vast weirdness of its landscape." - Glen David Gold, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Yid begins 24 February 1953, in the earliest morning hours, three men from state security arriving to take Solomon Shimonovich Levinson into custody. The trio wasn't who Levinson was expecting, but in darkest Stalinist-era Moscow a surprise visit from and arrest by state security for no obvious reason can't come as too much of a surprise either. And these are dark times indeed: in a brief introductory summary Goldberg notes that Stalin was in the midst of: "preparing to solve Russia's Jewish Question definitively", a carefully organized state-sponsored and led pogrom, a Soviet 'Final Solution', having been set into motion. The pogrom was scheduled to begin 5 March -- the day that, instead, Stalin's death was announced.
       Levinson had been an actor with GOSET, the Moscow State Jewish Theatre. Not its star -- that was his longtime nemesis, Solomon Mikhoels -- but still. Though he seems almost a sad old madmen when state security begins going through his things, he turns out to be a wise old fool of the classical school instead. Well-trained, too: Levinson does wind up in the soldiers' 'Black Maria' -- but more or less at the wheel, and not in custody but rather a fugitive.
       On the run with him is the guest he had been expecting, Friederich Robertovich Lewis, who turned up later that morning. He's an African-American who could pass for Paul Robeson, who had given up on the United States (though without yet having renounced his American citizenship ...) more than two decades earlier, exchanging one form of racism for another: for all the Marxist-Leninist promise that: "National origins and race are negated, voided" he found soon enough that: "race remained un-negated" wherever he went. Still, even if he hasn't fully embraced all things Soviet (and vice-versa), he's done well for himself in the Soviet Union (and remains a hit with the ladies). Related by marriage to Levinson, he stays with him when visiting Moscow -- and now joins him in flight.
       On their way out of Moscow they knock on another door: Dr. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Kogan's. Dr.Kogan has good reason to think the knock is more ominous than it is: the Jewish 'doctors' plot' is all the rage, and recent events have made it inevitable that Dr.Kogan will be collateral damage: "His arrest, in the midst of a spectacle, is days away". But instead of arrest, Dr.Kogan finds opportunity at the door: Levinson invites him to join them.
       Not that the trio are safe. Anything but. But their plan is audacious -- to go all-in. And given that there's no possibility of retreat, of saving themselves otherwise, what the hell ? As Levinson suggests:

The plan is to escalate the process I have begun to its absolute furthest extreme. There is no point in halfway measures. They will not help us in the least. We must go for the top. The very top.
       They hide out in a dacha -- joined by a few others over the next few days --, look for confirmation that a large-scale deportation and pogrom is in the works, and deal with those that get in their way. They do arouse some suspicion -- as someone notes: "In our country, people don't disappear", at least not without the help of the authorities, and a growing number of people are proving hard to account for -- but their audacity sees them through -- all the way to the climax, right into the den of the lion.
       Goldberg entertainingly fills in backstories and context, of good and bad alike, and his Soviet portrait is sharp and convincing. With sections presented in straight dialogue, scenes right out of Levinson's theatrical performances, and some tense action-scenes, The Yid offers lots of immediacy, along with a good deal of comic relief -- sometimes at odds with the seriousness of the subject-matter (with even Lewis wondering about Levinson and Kogan: "How can they switch so easily from killing to absurdism, from swordplay to wordplay ?"). A lot of the novel has a cinematic feel; if not quite reading like a screenplay, one can almost see the scenes on the big screen.
       The Yid is rooted entirely in Soviet history and literature -- among the many nice asides is one on the proper 'curriculum', the order in which to introduce someone to certain writers ("prescribe Zoshchenko and Babel, to develop a sense of the absurd and a sense of history", etc.) -- and Soviet-born Goldberg's familiarity shines through throughout -- yet The Yid is very much a work written at a great remove from the Soviet Union -- and, one can't help think, colored entirely by American experience (and attitudes). Dressed up in the Russian tradition, this is nevertheless a comic-book-simplified American story.
       Goldberg's story is guided by an American sense of individualism. Levinson, his hero, claims:
Lenin was wrong. It's a mistake to negate the individual's role in history. Class isn't everything. Revolution isn't always the answer. There are times when simple terrorism is good enough.
       More pointedly, Levinson points out:
Look what we've done so far. I killed three MGB operatives. That's three armed men. It was so easy. I'm surprised it's not done more often.
       In this The Yid is fairy-tale fiction -- of the troubling sort, too, in suggesting that all it would have taken in Soviet times (and, presumably, in similar circumstances under Hitler) is just some good old-fashioned personal resistance. "It was so easy", Levinson claims -- why didn't everyone do it ?
       Goldberg's happy ending doesn't come as a surprise -- history records that Stalin died at the beginning of March, 1953, and Goldberg reminded readers that he would right at the start of his novel -- but just how happy it is is also decidedly un-Soviet: Russian comic fiction embraces the absurd, but not like this. But The Yid is an American novel, and Stalin's death is well over half a century back, and maybe enough time has passed so that it's okay to offer up revisionist history of this rose-colored sort (though the offensive underlying accusation -- Why didn't you, you individuals, stand up and just do something ? -- surely still stings).
       As pure entertainment, The Yid certainly impresses. There's perhaps a bit much repetition (with translation) of Yiddish and Russian expressions and conversations (a doubled-presentation that anyone with rudimentary Yiddish, German, and/or Russian will come to find particularly annoying), but on the whole Goldberg's writing and presentation impress greatly. This is good writing, and a well-presented story. It's a pretty exciting story too -- The Yid is a superior thriller, and one that offers considerable comic relief, too. But based as it is in history it maybe strikes too close to home -- a comic-book what-could-have-been that couldn't.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 February 2016

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The Yid: Reviews: Paul Goldberg: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Paul Goldberg was born in the Soviet Union in 1959 and emigrated to the US in 1973. He edits and publishes The Cancer Letter.

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© 2016 the complete review

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