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05.07.08

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Phaedra

The End of
the Jews

By Richard von Busack


Adam Mansbach, the Berkeley-based author of Angry White Black Boy, takes on a huge issue in his new novel: a century of assimilation of American Jews. Central to the text are the stories of a grandfather and a grandson, both named Tristan. The elder is a tough, Bronx-raised novelist who exposes prejudices and forgotten history in his books, while freezing out his wife, Amalia, a poet (who may be an even better writer than her husband). His grandson, called Tris, is a hip-hop-worshipping graffiti "writer" right at the end of the spray-paint artist's brief moment of favor in the cultural marketplace. Both Tristans share a longing to find communion and inspiration with African Americans; in doing so, neither can take it on faith that no one has suffered like the Jews have. Eventually, grandfather and grandson go into competition, when both publish novels about the hip-hop outlaw life. This makes for some of the novel's least-interesting passages, ax-grinding about the struggles of a lower-echelon writer striving in Brooklyn, griping about the critics and dealing with a mere $35,000 advance. The further Mansbach gets from describing the lives of writers, the tougher it goes for him. Ambition, compassion and clever observation mark this novel; so do glibness, a forced happy ending and poor dialect; an Okinawan lady, unforgivably described as "inscrutable," speaks English for more than 40 years and still ends up talking like Minh Souphanousinphone on King of the Hill. And when the author pushes two unlikely characters into bed, you can practically hear a scraping sound like someone dragging a heavy chair across a floor. (By Adam Mansbach; Spiegel & Grau; 310 pages; $23.95 cloth)


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