Monday, February 23, 2009

Homework

In these hard times, fun becomes a luxury, pleasure a concept best left for the fat years when it can have no consequence. "The era of entitlement is over," we were told at a recent work meeting. "I," said the manager who made the announcement,"feel lucky to have a job." Personal fulfillment from work? Professional satisfaction? Pensions? Social security? Surely you jest.

Happily, though, not all assigned tasks are so grim. I've been doing my homework for the March 10 "Noir at the Bar T.O. style," featuring authors Howard Shrier and Sean Chercover, and the job has been fun. Here's one reason: The kicker to Chapter One of Shrier's novel Buffalo Jump. P.I. Jonah Geller has just ejected an ill-mannered, anti-Semitic slob from a Toronto streetcar after the bum had grabbed a seat intended for an elderly woman. As the streetcar doors close on the complaining yob, the hero of the piece muses: "Jonah Geller. Repairing the world, one asshole at a time."

What does this tell us? That Shrier has a sense of humor. That Geller is a gentleman of the old-fashioned kind, a knight errant who does what the rest of us only fantasize about doing to jerks, slobs and morons. But mostly it tells us that Geller, his creator or both paid attention in Hebrew school.

Repairing the world, in Hebrew tikkun olam, is an ancient ethical concept in Judaism, its various meanings embodying service, social conscience, duty and responsibility for others. It may be time to make room for Geller on the roster of ethnic detectives (for which, see here and here). And, since tikkun olam originated in the rabbinic period, with roots in the Mishnah, perhaps the Mishnah joins that list of proto-detective classics of world literature.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Labels: ,

44 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

And, since tikkun olam originated in the rabbinc period, with roots in the Mishnah, perhaps the Mishnah joins that list of proto-detective classics of world literature.

Glad to know I'm not the only one who sees genre fiction in religious texts. People have looked at me askance when I suggest that the book of Judges reads like a series of horror stories.

February 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No reason for them to look at you that way. Among my proto-detectives posts was one about Bathsheba with David’s letter and the biblical episode's affinities with noir stories. You can remind your askance-looking friends that human passions and questions can as easily drive a detective as a killer, a judge or a biblical king.

February 23, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

That's a nice post and conveying of a literary allusion that might have passed most of us by. I have heard the phrase 'tikkun olam' before, Tikkun being a popular leftish magazine, but I wouldn't have spotted the reference in Shrier's work.

Thanks for the clue.

February 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of Buffalo Jump's two epigraphs is also from the Talmud: "Save one life and you save the world" -- another good credo for a hard-boiled P.I.

I once posted another bit from the Talmud over my desk at work: "Love work, hate lordship, and seek no intimacy with the ruling power."

Tikkun magazine probably brought some renewed currency to the word tikkun, and it's no surprise to me the magazine would be popular around Santa Cruz.

And I may have mentioned this in a comment during Bouchercon, but I found out over breakfast with Shrier and John McFetridge at the convention that Shrier lived in my neighborhood in Montreal and that we went to the same high school for a year. He was three years older, thought, so I never knew him.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Isn't it funny how the high school years are segmented so strictly segmented into classes? I suppose it's partly developmental, but I wonder if classes aren't part of the problem. In adult life, I have friends who range across the years, the latest being about eight months and a year and a half old.

I was at a memorial service yesterday for a religious studies professor from my distant university days, Noel King. Some of your readers may in fact know his wife, the mystery writer Laurie King. Anyway, he was an Anglican Christian, but he had quite a patchwork background and a wide embrace of many traditions, so much so that we were treated to a translation of a Sikh prayer at one point. But the reason I bring this all up is that his newish son in law is Jewish and recited the Kaddish along with an English translation. I was reminded of seeing that little clip of you on the Goodis anniversary, where you said that the Kaddish does not actually contain the word death. So I listened, and in fact, you're right. It doesn't.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is the way with schools. But I doubt that even the most permissive or liberal of schools would have had me and Shrier in any of the same classes. I'd have been thirteen and fourteen years old that year, and he'd have been sixteen or seventeen, a big difference at that age.

Yep, there's no death in the Kaddish.It's all about praising God.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Cain and Abel. Esau and Isaac. Drunken Noah. The elements are all there early.

I know you read it, but did you ever review Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union?

Of course there are many Israeli Hebrew detective novels and the Hebrew Mossad and Shinbet novels are a flourishing sub genre of spy novel, but did you know that at Kiryat Joel there's an underground market in Yiddish detective novels?

Kiryat Joel made a cameo on Law and Order a couple of weeks ago there's a little bit of Yiddish too

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This may be a shanda for me to admit, but I haven't read The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It's on my list, though.

Yiddish detective novels, I had not known about. Are they translations?

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Well I certainly remember you buying it somewhere. I haven't read the Kiryat Joel detective novels but the missus has one in her office. There's also a newish Haredi made Yiddish action movie

Sholem Asch of course wrote several plays and stories about Yiddish gangsters.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

This is as good an opportunity as I'm likely to come across to give a plug to one of the best books I've read on both crime fiction and Jewishness in Western society: Laurence Roth's Inspecting Jews: American Jewish Detective Stories. A quite brilliant analysis, I thought, and spry with it, as you might guess from the title of the first chapter: 'Talmudic Sissy or Jewish Dupin?', possibly an uncomfortable read for Rabbi Small. I much recommend if you haven't yet discovered it.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Philip

Thanks for that. When I went over to the Amazon.com listing this is the portion of text they chose to illustrate the book with:

"Though his penis is never mentioned in the eleven books that comprise his eponymous detective series, Rabbi David Small is a popular cultural example of..."

which is certainly intriguing.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Enjoyed the exchanges on an interesting topic. Thanks Peter!

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Great discussion Peter going over to Amazon to check on that book.

February 24, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Haredi made?

No good creed goes unPUNished.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

And God said, let there be noir.

Gold, Peter. I even printed it out to save.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, so help me, but I've never bought "The Yiddish Policemen's Union", either, and I don't think I've borrowed it from the library. But my intentions are good. I do intend to read it.

I wonder what ever became of "A Gesheft" or if there were any sequels.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I don't know the book, but it sounds worth a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

The split Roth seems to be getting is not exclusively American. Isaac Babel wrote wonderful gangster stories, one of which crystallizes the divide wonderfully when he has one character tell another something like "Imagine that instead of raising hell at your desk and stammering in public, you stammered at your desk and raised hell in public."

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I could name additional crime series in which the protagonist's penis is never mentioned, and some of those have more than eleven books. Granted, they may not tap into cultural anxieties in this way.

I should check a bibliography. I'm not sure I've ever known what the rabbi did after he ran out of days of the week.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, my mother liked that line as well. And please: no comments about yet one more Jewish stereotype.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, the pun does suggest a list of titles not just for an action movie, but sequels: Haredi or Not, Haredi When You Are, Haredi for Anything.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Much obliged, Uriah and PM. It transpires that tikkun olam is part of the protagonist's ideal even though he's not that religious and even -- eats non-kosher food.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Well dont rush out to YPU on my account. I liked the book but it was flawed. I know from his blog that Chabon worked hard on the novel but at times it seems his heart isnt really in it. The hardboiled prose seems to veer into ironic parody more than is really necessary.

Yeah Babel's Odessa stories are terrific, but his real genius came out in Red Cavalry I think.

I dont know what happened to that movie. I read a few reviews of it, mostly celebrating the rebirth of Yiddish cinema...I wish the Coen brother who are making YPU into a film (in English) would make something like Satan in Goray in Yiddish. That could be a good film.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, then I could make a post about Chabon's use of the form.

I read lots of Babel's stories probably in the early '80s, when I think many were first translated into English. My lingering affection is with the Odessa stories.

I read some of the stories in more than one translation, and I much prefer the approach that left some of the names untranslated. "Lisping Moiseyka" to me reads much better than "Little Lisping Moise."

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I could have done with more jokes in TYPU too, although there are some good ones. I also would have liked it, if he, like Singer, had written it in Yiddish first and then translated it into English.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

How's Chabon's Yiddish?

Dario Fo remains the only Nobel Prize winner I've hung out with, but Singer did sign a book for me. A woman behind me in line urged me to "say something in Yiddish" to him. Since I knew little more than insults and admonitions to "Hock mir nisht kin chaynik," I declined.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I dont know that might have been useful if you'd annoyed him in some way. Perhaps by saying something like "Well, you're no Sholem Aleichum but..."

Ok, for some reason I feel the need to go and make a cup of tea.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I got a kick out of the shiksah who wanted to hear Yiddish. I had no desire to annoy Singer. I'd recently read and liked Friend of Kafka. It was only years later that I found out Harvey Pekar was no Singer fan.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter, that's interesting, I dont remember that coming up in AS. What was Harvey's beef?

Singer did rub some people the wrong way though. My wife's aunt Libby told us some interesting stories.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm surprised you missed the story in question. It's a long one, set on a day when Harvey has nothing to do but read at work. His beef is that Singer is too much into magic and sex. Pekar makes the point that he (Pekar) had relatives, some even of his own generation, who were Eastern European Jews and that they were sober, hard-working people, not the wonder rabbis and doomed souls of Singer's writing.

Pekar has some credibility on this, I'd say, if only because he depicts himself elsewhere as speaking Yiddish. I think he just likes realism and naturalism a lot more than he likes other modes of fiction.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I knew Schubs in Montreal. I wonder if they were any relation.

February 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You dont recall which number? Most of mine are in a storage locker in Denver, but there's just a chance its one of the ones I have here.

Yeah that makes sense though doesnt it for Harvey. There is no possibility of escape! Though Satan in Goray is very anti magical thinking.

I used to think that Yiddish was going to die out with Pekar's generation but now I doubt it. I know at Kiryat Joel (according to Wikipedia) its 88 percent Yiddish only and they have some impressive birth rates. I'll bet NY state has close to a million Yiddish speakers in the next census skewed at two ends of the demographic scale.

February 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't recall the number, and I'm not sure where in the house my old comics are. I'll try to remember to look over the next couple of days.

In addition to the Yiddish-only speakers, there has been the resurgence of interest in Yiddish culture, including language and klezmer music, in America. I'm not sure that's deep-seated enough to help ensure the language's continuity, but it probably can't hurt.

It may be of interest in this connection that I went to a klezmer concert in Rome in 1997.

February 25, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Somehow this had reminded me of a wonderful course I took in college about Jewish literature preceding and then up to the Holocaust. It was taught by a Guatamalan Jew named Victor Perera. I think there were only about eight of us in the class, and I was the only, ahem, goy. I felt a bit awkward about it at first, but only at first. It was a nice group of people.

What's bringing this to mind is that we read Satan in Goray among other things, which I thought was a wonderful book about false messiahs in particular and in general.

I know we read some Heschel and I'm guessing we read some Buber, because for some reason Martin Buber's niece or granddaughter made a guest appearance, and was quite the hit.

The end of the course, since it was Santa Cruz was that after reading Wiesel's Night, we were all supposed to go down to the baths at Esalan and purify ourselves. I chickened out. It's funny that to this day, I cannot tell if I was right or wrong in my intuitions about this. Which I think probably means I was right and wrong, but on different levels of experience.

February 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never read "Satan in Goray," but false messiahs are a recurring theme in Jewish history.

That sounds like quite a course. By god, a Guatemalan Jew and purifying bath at Esalen? Only in America!

February 25, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Yes, and perhaps only at that particular time and place could it have happened.

February 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I attended Passover seders in Rome one year. There were Jews from everywhere: Germany. Italy. Teaneck. One woman of Indian-Burmese parentage had just come back from Israel. None was more colorful, though, than the real-estate broker and his wife the feng shui consultant from California.

February 25, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

TYPU: a not too spoilerish positive review appeared just today


v-word: laherati (Yiddish Leher-literati)

February 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like the way that review approaches the book from multiple genre perspectives. Thanks.

February 25, 2009  
Anonymous Jeffrey Oberman said...

Without sounding like my post has its origins in biased, non-familial nepotism...excellent blog on Shrier.

Please send him my regards when you see him in T.O. (although I have already forwarded my best electronically) and tell him that the Dominican fan club is alive and well and preparing for a Hollywood gala.

February 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, nice to hear from you, and give my regards to your sister.

So far it transpires that my mother did p.r. for one of Shrier's Montreal appearances, and Shrier's brother was the quarterback on my friend David's football team.

OK, Dominican fan club. Got that.

I don't remember if Howard mentioned your name in Baltimore. I do know that we talked about bagels, no doubt to the great boredom of the Irish crime writer who had joined us for breakfast.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Gavin said...

I liked this review so much I had to look up Buffalo Jump at my library. They don't have it so I requested they buy it!

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hope your library gets it. My copy of the book is a Canadian edition, I believe. I don't know if the book has a U.S. publication or distribution deal. I'll have to check the author's Web site.

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Gavin said...

It doesn't seem to have a US deal yet but I'm in Seattle and the library system has been known to purchase Canadian publications. Thanks for the comment.

March 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I hadn't thought of this before, but it makes sense that border cities and towns might tend to be a bit more interested in books from the other side.

March 01, 2009  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home