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172 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, NO.2 recognized a long-lost self in Allegra, are reasons enough. to read, and perhaps reread, the story of Alle~a Maud Goldman. yaffa Weisman Frances~Henrylibrary Hebrew Union CollegeJewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles Tar Beach, by Richard Elman. New American Fiction Series: 23. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1991. 273 pp. $12.95. This novel excavates some potentially rich lodes of American-Jewish ore. It is set in Brooklyn immediately after World War II. The news of the Holocaust is beginning to sink in and the Jews in Palestine are fighting for _ survival. Jewish veterans, some psychically scarred, have returned from the war. The members of this particular synagogue have acquired a whole building and turned it into a combination sanctuary, athletic club, residential hotel, and solarium. The chief social function is nude sunbathing on the roof (men and women separated by a partition), ·on what is called "tar beach." The men play cards, kibitz, gossip about real estate deals and about the garment industry, talk a little Zionist and shul politics, and banter in Brooklynese-tinted Yinglish. Peter, a troubled little boy, fantasizes that they are in Mrica-in Uganda, to be precise-having accepted Britain's offer ofUganda as the national Jewish homeland. At his lowest point, he is visited by a sexy, hard-boiled pre-pubescent angel-a seraphette. All of these themes are pressed into service in a narrative told mostly from Peter's boy's point of view about a family crisis: his mother is clinically depressed because she loves and is having an affair with his father's best friend, Izzy Berliner, who is in fact his real father. Berliner's son by his wife has died, that marriage is all but over, and he lavishes protective and paternal affection on the boy. At the end of the book, the wife breaks off the affair and seems to reconcile with her husband Sam, but then the novel shifts abruptly to a later time in Peter's life and we learn that his parents had split up a month later, and are now remarried. Unfortunately, the various elements of the novel do not seem to coalesce, and other writers have handled them with greater verve. The fantasies of a Zionist Uganda boil down to a few catch phrases, and are far less zany than Malamud's Mrican dream in The Terulnts. The fast-talking Book Reviews 173 seraphette appears late, and to no significant purpose, and makes an abrupt exit, as if she discovered she really belonged in a story by Steve Stern. The social observation remains superficial and repetitive, and not nearly as pungent or keen as works by Roth, Richler, Markfield, Heller, and other satirists. The heart of the novel, the adulterous affair which weighs so heavily on the minds of all the protagonists, failed to engage my imaginative sympathy as a recklessly destructive but deeply fulfilling liaison. The cause of that failure, as I see it, is Elman's decision to degrade Izzy Berliner as the story unfolds. He is first presented as a glamorous veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a committed exponent of socialist principles, a worldly and attractive rebel, a sophisticated and passionate lover ofwomen, Sam's agonized but loyal friend, and Peter's doting "uncle." As the book moves along negative traits emerge and eventually swamp his character-his political commitments are just talk, and we learn that he has betrayed former comrades, he fails to repay loans, and he sleeps with any man's wife he can seduce. like Milton transforming Satan from the defial)dy glorious titan of Hell into a snake hissing at Eve's ear, Elman finally makes Izzy shrivel into a pathetic and lonely old man. So he appears at the end of the book even in the view of the boy who once idolized him for his golden voice and tender solicitude while hating him for betraying and humiliating the decent if dull Sam. Peter's ambivalent response might have been explored more fully instead of being tangled up in the underdeveloped African and angelic themes; and if the novel were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 172-173
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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