Sunday, June 04, 2006

Summer Reading Challenge: The Golems of Gotham

Wow! Elise, I have to say thank you for making me read this book! I really enjoyed it. This is my first book for the Summer Reading Challenge (refer to sidebar), and the 21st book I've read this year. I'm way behind on overall reading for the year, but while I've taken a cut in quantity, the quality is WAY up.

Here's a blurb I posted in one of my book groups:

#21: The Golems of Gotham, by Thane Rosenbaum
Date Finished: 6/4/06
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 8.5/10 (very good/couldn't put it down)

Thoughts: This is the story of Oliver Levin, a mainstream mystery writer who suddenly finds himself navigating a massive case of writer's block. His concerned 14-year-old daughter takes it upon herself to summon her grandparents back from the dead. They were Holocaust survivors who committed suicide, and Ariel's experiment calling forth the "Golems" unwittingly produces 8 ghosts--her grandparents, along with some of the most famous atrocity writers of all time....Primo Levi, Jean Amery, Paul Celan, Piotr Rawicz, Jerzy Kosinski, andTadeusz Borowski. What results is the chronicle of Oliver's attempt at navigating life as an inheritor of the Holocaust experience via his parents and his crippling fear of loss as a result of their suicide (and some other stuff that would ruin the book for you, so I'll stop there).

This book was both funny and really depressing, which equals a winning mix in my book. While I thought Rosenbaum was a little heavy handed with his redemptive message at times (and some of the ghost stuff and exposition bordered on cheese), overall it was a gorgeous, worthwhile read. From the first page it really sucks the reader in. In fact, I started reading it while I was leaning on Elise's kitchen island, and leaned there, reading, for long enough to be really uncomfortable. Oliver's plight, along with the fictional characterization of such great authors is any book nerd's wet dream. This book reminded me of Art Spiegelman's Maus in the way that it confronts the inheritance of the Holocaust burden. Even though Oliver wasn't there, the experience and its effect on his parents colored his entire outlook on life and his ability (or inability as the case may be) to interact in a meaningful way with his daughter.

I admit it, I got teary several times. That warrants a big rec from me.

Yummy passages that I *heart*.

"The Golems didn't die from suicide. The true cause of death was too much reflection; casualties of a life lived in furious remembrance. The closer they looked, the easier it became to self-kill. Those who examined too close inevitably saw too much. Each one an Icarus, flying too near the sun, and then, for the sake of finality, stared intrepidly, and fatally, into the hypnotic face of a Medusa head cut off from the corpses of Auschwitz." (125)

"'We are turning over the burden to him,' Paul said. 'We could haveleft him alone as he was, but that was not alive, either. He needs the challenge. It is only in the extremes, on the margins of existence, where life is worth living, where we learn what's possible for ourselves and for the rest of humanity. The middle of the road leads nowhere, it reveals nothing about man other than ambivalence and fear.'" (167)

Next up on the reading block is probably In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. I've never read Capote, so I'm excited about it.


  1. I need to blog less and read books more this summer!

  2. LOL, Sam. I have recommendations running out my ass if you need any.

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Overall, I thought it was a good and worthwhile read, though it is at times pretty cheesy (especially towards the end) and I think the writing itself is tight and very readable.

    His other book, Second Hand Smoke, is also on my reading list for the summer.

  4. In Cold Blood was good, I loved the style of it. I found it a pretty quick read.

    Have you seen Capote?

  5. E., I'm looking forward to reading more of his stuff for sure.

    Heather, I have seen Capote and LOVED IT. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing. Really excited about In Cold Blood. I hope it freaks me out.

  6. promptly adding book to massive TBR database!

  7. YAYYY! I think you'd like it Amanda!

  8. ICB didn't freak me out, since it's written rather fiction-like. Unlike Helter Skelter, which has left me checking for Charlie Manson under my bed every night.

    In my family we now refer to Capote as 'Cay-pot', because that's the what the girl in Blockbuster called it when we rented it. Heh. PSH was excellent, but I'll forever be pissed that Joaquin Phoenix didn't get the Oscar.

  9. LOL @ "Cay-pot"! I would've probably laughed myself into a coma. And I won't read Helter Skelter. Even watching Manson on TV freaks me out.


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