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Just Revenge Hardcover – September 1, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his first courtroom drama, The Advocate's Devil, Alan M. Dershowitz introduced us to defense attorney Abe Ringel as he represented a rapist. That book probed a controversial legal issue--what happens when a defender doubts his own client's innocence? In Dershowitz's second legal thriller--Abe (along with the whole judicial system) is confronted with a still bigger dilemma: Is a Holocaust survivor entitled to seek revenge on the perpetrator who butchered his family some 50 years earlier?

Max Menuchen was just 18 years old when Captain Marcelus Prandus of the Lithuanian Auxiliary Militia forced his family (and dozens of other Jewish families) into the Ponary Woods in Vilna, Lithuania, making them dig their own graves. The young man could only watch as Prandus shot his pregnant wife, Leah, and baby boy, Efraium. Escaping a similar fate by "dumb luck," Max survived the bullet, but not the torment and guilt that would haunt him for decades. Then, in 1999, Max makes the chilling discovery that Prandus escaped any punishment and now lives in a small Massachusetts town, surrounded by a loving family.

The world didn't care about what happened in the Ponary Woods. That was what was destroying Max. That was what drove him to the vengeance in which he was now engaged.
Determined to make the former Nazi suffer, Max and an old acquaintance kidnap Prandus, tie him to a chair, and psychologically torture him. Prandus then commits suicide to escape his own "suffering." Max now stands accused of murder--and his old friend Abe Ringel must prove that the revenge was just, for the sake of the Menuchens and for all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

The legal mechanics of Max's trial are hardly exceptional (author Dershowitz has a tendency to slip back into his other role as Harvard law professor, and we sometimes feel more like students than readers). However, the moral implications of such a controversial trial make Just Revenge a compelling, and ultimately thought-provoking, read. --Naomi Gesinger

From Publishers Weekly

Who determines justice? In this thought-provoking and ambitious novel, lawyer and Harvard professor Dershowitz creates a decide-for-yourself scenario that is both chilling and life affirming. Elderly scholar Max Menuchen is a Holocaust survivor who endures haunting memories of the 1942 massacre of his infant son, pregnant wife and extended family in Vilna, Lithuania. His grandfather's last cry for revenge echoes constantly in his mind, even after he emigrates to America and builds a successful career. Finally, after a lifetime of survivor guilt, a chance encounter in Cambridge, Mass., leads him to the Nazi killer of his family, Marcelus Prandus, who lives nearby, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, his past never revealed to his American-born family. To prosecute him for war crimes appears to be futileAPrandus is terminally ill and would die before any trial came to pass. Overcome with frustration and a burning need to avenge his family's deaths, MaxAan otherwise gentle, kindly academicAconceives a plan to punish Prandus that is both shocking and brilliant. Ultimately, a psychologically devastated Prandus takes his own life. Is Max responsible for his death? Were his actions morally acceptable? And of immediate relevance, were they legal? Defense lawyer Abe RingelAreturning from Dershowitz's previous novel The Advocate's DevilAtakes on his old friend Max's case and seeks to prove that retribution and justice are not irreconcilable. Full of clever twists, Dershowitz's latest endeavor is intricately plotted, though the dialogue is on the stiff side and frequently more utilitarian than conversational. Subtlety is not Dershowitz's strong suit, nor is literary finesse, but he makes up for these shortcomings with the dramatic and tragic events that frame the plot, and the intensity of his moral argument. He dedicates the novel to the members of his family who were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Agent, Helen Rees. 5-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446519839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446519830
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,282,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ is a Brooklyn native who has been called 'the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer' and one of its 'most distinguished defenders of individual rights,' 'the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,' 'the top lawyer of last resort,' and 'America's most public Jewish defender.' He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. While he is known for defending clients such as Anatoly Sharansky, Claus von B'low, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson, he continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz is the author of 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including 6 bestsellers. His writing has been praised by Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, William Styron, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Elie Wiesel. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide, in numerous languages, and more than a million people have heard him lecture around the world. His most recent nonfiction titles are The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved (August 2005, Wiley); Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (November 2004, Basic Books), The Case for Israel (September 2003, Wiley), America Declares Independence, Why Terrorism Works, Shouting Fire, Letters to a Young Lawyer, Supreme Injustice, and The Genesis of Justice. His novels include The Advocate's Devil and Just Revenge. Dershowitz is also the author of The Vanishing American Jew, The Abuse Excuse, Reasonable Doubts, Chutzpah (a #1 bestseller), Reversal of Fortune (which was made into an Academy Award-winning film), Sexual McCarthyism and The Best Defense.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book makes you FEEL as well as think about an extremely disturbing moral and legal dilemma. It tempts readers to sympathize, if only for a moment and if only at a very human level, with the desire for a terrible act of revenge against a former Nazi butcher, including the death of innocent family members. It then turns around and invites the reader to sympathize, if only for a moment and at a very human level, with the desire for vengeance by the son of the former Nazi butcher. Finally, it forces readers to decide what kind of punishment the law itself is entitled to impose. The most "annoying" thing about the book is that it NEVER oversimplifies, on either legal or moral issues. It will really engage readers who are not satisfied with pat solutions, and are willing to learn something about themselves from their own reactions to a very suspenseful told story.
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Format: Hardcover
Dershowitz reminds us that for victims of an atrocity such as the Holocaust, remembering is not enough. I felt Max's anguish and cheered him on - but also felt relieved that his revenge was visited upon the evil-doer rather than creating more innocent victims. Like Simon Wiesenthal in the "Sunflower," and Jerry Marcus in "Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Zev," Dershowitz shows an exquisite sensitivity to the plight of those who survived the Holocaust and live daily with its legacy. He also understands that evil must be rooted out at its source - which is "Just Revenge."
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By A Customer on September 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Alan Dershowitz's "Just Revenge" is a masterfully crafted story that challanges its readers to question their most basic instincts and ethics. The issues, dilemmas and solutions are presented through a thrilling and haunting story that keeps you from putting this book down, while at all times trying to put yourself in the shoes of the main character "Max Menuchen". Upon completeing this first-rate novel I was left compelled to ask myself who, at the NY Observer, chose to write a reveiw, and just what book had they actually read. Not only does the NY Observer reviewer totally miss the mark, but they completely betray their ignorance by trying to imply plagerized material from the wonderful Elie Wiesel book "Night". After re-reading "Night" I could find no similarity in the scenes referred to by the Observer and was left to wonder if this reviewer had some other agenda in what was nothing more than an outrageous attempt to slander Mr. Dershowitz. In fact, on the rear jacket of "Just Revenge", Elie Wiesel himself gives the book a glowing endorsement. Read this book, it will keep you talking and asking questions of yourself for some time.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I've read in a long time. Dershowitz writes a book that asks a compelling moral question. The characters in this book are incredibly likeable, and it is amazing the way Dershowitz makes the reader feel compassion for a man who committed horrible and unforgiveable acts years ago. This story portrays two sides of an unthinkable, yet very real, historical tragedy. Does a person have the right to seak revenge on a person who years ago, during the Nazi era, committed unthinkable acts of malice? Read this book and you will be intrigued.
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I was driven to read this book by all the publicity it garnered in Lithuania. Dershowitz chose to target the country because he felt that it was dragging its heels when it came to prosecuting suspected Nazi war criminals. The most high profile case was that of Aleksandras Liliekis, who had been residing in the United States before being forced to face extradition for his alledged role in the Holocaust.
Given the attention this book garnered, I expected to read something substantive on the case against Liliekis. Instead, what Dershowitz has presented is a highly subjective work that bears very little resemblance to the actual case. Dershowitz chose to explore the psychological aspects of revenge through his protagonist, Max Menchen, who survived the shootings that took place outside Kaunas. Menchen managed to track down the Lithuanian SS officer who killed his family, including his baby son, and then set out to exact his revenge, supposedly based on the principles of Maimonides.
We are constantly reminded of the level of scholarship of Menchen, the narrator (one assumes Dershowitz) and the young woman who helped Menchen exact his revenge. But the level of scholarship in this novel is minimal. Lithuanian names are improperly transcribed. What little history of the Holocaust in Lithuania that Dershowitz provides is poorly rendered, and the Lithuanian-American lodge in this novel is portrayed as a den of war criminals rehashing their days in the Nazi special services in Lithuania.
I expected more out of Dershowitz. Just Revenge amounts to little more than a standard courtroom pot-boiler that boils down to almost nothing in the end.
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Format: Hardcover
Having written The Vanishing American Jew: In Search for Jewish Identity for the Next Century and that classic of self-celebration, Chutzpah, Mr. Dershowitz is himself something of a soi-disant expert on Jewish culture. Here he gives us a courtroom melodrama in which Abe Ringel-the hero of a previous Dershowitz thriller and, one can't help thinking, a stand-in for the author-gets the chance to try his dream case. His friend Max Menuchen, an aged, dignified, sympathetic Holocaust survivor, has learned that the Lithuanian officer who ordered the massacre of his family is alive in America. The old man concocts an elaborate revenge scheme, and when Max is accused of engineering the Lithuanian's death, Abe agrees to defend him.
It's difficult, really, to fully describe just how dreadful the novel is. Unable to distinguish between dialogue and exposition, Mr. Dershowitz treats us to passages like the following, in which Max relates a childhood memory: "`We must have looked strange,' Max said with a warm smile as he remembered the scene. `A portly old man with a flowing white beard and a fur hat, crawling around a dark attic, while his 18-year-old grandson, wearing a black suit and a yarmulke, with curly sidelocks and the beginning of a never-shaved beard, held a flickering candle.'" With no apparent interest in narrative verisimilitude or psychological credibility, he muddles up dramatic moments like this one: "`I could never forget your eyes!' Max bellowed as his hand, with a will of its own, smashed against Prandus' face.... Prandus cringed in fear, not from the force of the blow, but from Max's words.
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