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Witz (American Literature Series) Paperback – May 11, 2010


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Product Details

  • Series: American Literature Series
  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564785882
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564785886
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,050,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A reminder of the serious import of the literary novel, the novel as linguistic artifact.” (TLS)

“[Cohen] reminds us what literature is: the self-conscious representation of the world using language.” (Forward)

“Cohen packs whole histories and destructions, maps and traditions, into single sentences. He employs lists, codes, and invented syntax with the sure hand of a visionary, his prowess and passion further emboldened by a boundless sense of scope.” (The Believer)

“The kind of ambitious, intelligent novel of ideas that will demand your full attention for 824 pages and repay you by rewiring your cerebral cortex in a fundamental way.” (The Stranger)

“The great lyrical sweeps of Cohen’s writing must be applauded.” (Library Journal)

“[N]ow that so much Jewish literature has been written and rewritten again in English, now that we have so many authors and classics, it is all the more rare and inspiring that Cohen, scandalously overlooked in America, especially by the Jewish literary community, continues to delve deeper and further with each book into an inherited terrain while making of that holy ground these beautifully uncharted territories with their own maps and legends.” (New Haven Review)

“Entertaining, adventurous and delightfully absurd.” (Time Out New York)

“This anarchic energy recalls Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, but what really distinguishes Witz is it language and Cohen’s vigorous assault on the sentence as a unit of simple communication....a brave and artful attempt to explore and explode the limits of the sentence.” (The New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in New Jersey. He is the author of five books, including the novels Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, A Heaven of Others, and Witz. Cohen’s essays have appeared in The Forward, Nextbook, The Believer, and Harper’s. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Edelberg on December 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
"Witz" is a profound and demanding book that I obsessively read..and read..and read, yet saddened me a little because I didn't have any friends that I could recommend it to. Let's face it: just as people would get a worried look if you handed them Gravity's Rainbow or Infinite Jest, expect that same look if they unwrap the copy you bought them as a "special gift." How many people do you know to whom you can say, "There's this amazing post modern absurdist novel which you really need to read s-l-o-w-l-y to savor the linguistic skills of this guy Cohen, a pisher who just turned thirty." Then you add, "Oh, and it helps if you know a bissel Yiddish (although not really necessary--you don't have to be a Jesuit to read Joyce.) This heavyweight, this 'Witz,' plan a month, my friend, maybe two, because it takes over your life."
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robert L. Alley on February 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Admittedly, I have not read much of the book, and you should weight this review accordingly. I've read the front and back of the first page. I skipped to several sentences in the dense interior to see if I was just reading some obtuse introduction or if the book would continue on in the same style. In giving it a 3 star rating, I hope to become the "most helpful negative review" -- to be a helpful marker for people who would rather read something else -- not because this book is "bad" but because I believe there's a good chunk of people who don't enjoy struggling to find coherence when reading a novel for pleasure. I'll probably tackle it again sometime in the future, but there are many books in the world, and for now I'd rather spend my time on something else.

This book is NOT an easily digestible novel. I wouldn't even call it a novel. This is nothing like Kurt Vonnegut. It is less easy to follow than Thomas Pynchon. This is not like David Foster Wallace. Calling it a prose poem is more accurate, but it's not poetry in the rhyming sense. It's poetry in the sense that many of the sections of text separated by periods (calling them sentences is generous, since many of them seem to be missing a complete thought and/or a subject-verb-object set) are ambiguous and up for interpretation to the extent that I wasn't even confident I was reading a story.

Maybe it's best to call it a long poem that doesn't rhyme and also doesn't have any particular repetitive syllabic or spatial organization.

After the first page, my interpretation was that this guy was good at stringing together intelligent-sounding sentence fragments with commas, dashes, and semi-colons.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
This reminded me of a post-Holocaust Kafka, combined with Joycean wordplay, Pynchonesque ideas, and Beckettian melancholy. The words derived from "Jew" never appear except in the subtitle. Their absence haunts this ambitious novel.

For Joshua Cohen's own version of a "lipogram," a work with a missing symbol, Benjamin Israelien's void after another, now total, global decimation of the Chosen People erodes him from the inside out. His inauthenticity as a Jewish survivor provokes the animosity of the rest of the world. Ben alone remains to become what turns out more the scapegoat than the Messianic harbinger with tidings of comfort and joy. Cohen stretches his somber saga over eight hundred pages.

The novel's span challenges neat summation. Briefly, his family and his birth-- full grown, bearded, hirsute--takes up the first couple of hundred pages with fine print and extended riffs. Cohen relishes food, babble, trivia. The demise of the Jews quickly gives way to their kitsch revival, "in a language nobody speaks but everybody's studying."

Cohen hurries over whatever sense would be in this catastrophe, oddly. He grants us a few powerful scenes of media coverage of this sudden death. Logic diminishes; a reader must put up with whatever Cohen dishes out to a put-upon Ben and the sketchily drawn cabal that unsuccessfully manages his marketing.

He makes us pay attention to the page. It takes patience to stay afloat amid so many verbal depth charges. Submerged into this book, you gasp for air. The force of Cohen's atmosphere presses down on you.

Ben stops at where he would have gone to school, "yet another inheritance deferred." There, "chalk remains from the happy clap of appreciative erasers smeared into the spirals of shoes out on permanent recess.
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Witz (American Literature Series)
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