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Rodinsky's Room Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; annotated edition edition (January 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862072574
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862072572
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,297,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Published to critical acclaim last year in the U.K., British artist Lichtenstein's obsessive quest to uncover the fate of a reclusive Jewish scholar named David Rodinsky unfolds as a labyrinthine detective story and a moving search for the author's roots. Fluent in several languages, alive and dead, Rodinsky was the caretaker of one of London's oldest synagogues and lived above it in an attic room until he disappeared mysteriously in the late 1960s. Left undisturbed for over a decade, his abandoned room was finally unsealed to reveal chaos: hundreds of books and records, mystical formulas and diagrams, diaries and bizarre poems. Was Rodinsky, as those who remembered him variously claimed, a self-taught kabbalist, a holy fool, a Dostoyevskian "underground man"--or was he a sad, mentally handicapped autistic? To find the answers, Lichtenstein consulted a kabbalist rabbi in Jerusalem, tracked down Rodinsky's surviving relatives and journeyed to Poland, where she delved into Rodinsky's past as well as her own family's (her grandparents escaped Poland in the 1930s to settle in East London). Lichtenstein's first-person narrative alternates with ruminative chapters by novelist/essayist Sinclair, who examines the legends surrounding Rodinsky and scrutinizes the rediscovery of East London by novelists, filmmakers and artists, who view it as a sanctuary preserving remnants of immigrant culture, Georgian London and working-class values. Ultimately, the Rodinsky enigma cannot support the speculative and interpretive edifice built around his memory, but his obscure life, a metaphor of Jewish tragedy and survival, yields a vibrant time capsule to the lost worlds of London's Jewish East End and the Eastern European shtetl. Photos.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Rodinsky's Room draws you in. So does the Lichtenstein/Sinclair study of it. It is extraordinary..."(The Times (London)) -- The

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Merlino on February 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I just finished teaching *Rodinsky's Room* and was amazed to see the variety of misreadings posted here as reviews. Among the many contemporary works of historical recovery or revision, *Rodinsky* stands out because of its alternating -- and often warring -- authors, each of whom has a different purpose in recovering Rodinsky's history, as well as a different form and style through which to accomplish this recovery.
Sinclair, the experimental London novelist and essayist, draws on a pastiche of languages and approaches: the short, grotesque sentences of crime novels; classic gothic imagery of the uncanny; filmic montage and surrealist juxtaposition; gossip and rumor and arcane whispers. As he follows Lichtenstein's quest for Rodinsky's history, Sinclair questions traditional ways of fixing history that overexpose, erase, or create a fictional simulacrum of the past. While he is quite aware that his early writings on Rodinsky were the stuff of romantic urban legend, he is also insistant that heritage trusts and yuppie preservationists are no better than the City developers who want to erase the multiple layers of time sedimented in Spitalfields. The latter erase history, while the former use urban myths to increase property values.
Lichtenstein's style, while more straight-forward than Sinclair's, is comparable to Paul Auster: a clean, seemingly transparent surface, with a plot built on unexplainable coicidences. If Sinclair is obsessed with the Room as a set for his own fictional musings, Lichtenstein wants to demystify the room, unfix energy from a fetishistic attachment to Rodinsky's objects and redirect it onto the human story of David Rodinsky.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book. Rachel Lichtenstein is a young artist, living in London, England, and Iain Sinclair, who also lives in London,is the celebrated author of Lights Out for the Territory, which was given a fantastic review in the New York Times not long ago. Lichtenstein, whose Jewish paternal grandparents found themselves in the Spitalfields area of London after immigrating from Poland in the early 1930s, became fascinated with the story of David Rodinsky, a Jewish man who lived above a synagogue in Spitalfields and mysteriously disappeared from his attic room in the 1960s. No more was heard of him until the room was re-opened more than a decade later, and was found exactly as he had left it - indentation in the bed where he had lain, half-finished tea on the table and the room strewn not only with books but extraordinary artefacts which only hinted at the kind of man he might have been. Rodinksy became an urban myth, nobody really knew him, or what had happened to him, but many claimed his memory. Lichtenstein tells a straightforward tale of her quest to find out what really happened to David Rodinsky, a tale which is something of a mystery story, while Sinclair reflects on Lichtenstein's quest and places it in the context of the London he knows so well. Rodinsky's Room is part mystery, part biography, part travel guide to an extraordinary part of London. Essential reading for anyone interested in Jewish history, identity, immigration, London, Iain Sinclair's writings. This is somehow more than just a book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By socrates964 on November 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A thoroughly disappointing book! Both authors seem to have overlooked the obvious point that the world is full of sad, mad recluses poring over esoterica in their garrets, and that one is only more interesting than any other on account of their thought processes. While they hint that the room was full of his books and writings, these hardly feature in their text. Was Rodinsky just a substandard lexicographer or did he actually have some interesting insights. I am none the wiser for reading this book. Surely an exposition of his writing would have done far more to illuminate him than the discovery that he came to rest in a forgotten corner of the commuter belt. (Lichtenstein seems to think that how Rodinsky got from Whitechapel to Surrey is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time - perhaps he got on the tube!) To her credit, she makes the disarming revelation three-quarters of the way through her text, that she lacks the background to analyse this material. This, and her entirely conventional description of her discovery of her Jewish roots, do not, however, do much to improve her book. At least one feels that she is sincere, so that her writing is actually more enjoyable than Sinclair's contrived and tired urban mythmaking. His idea that London's underworld/underground provides a mystical link with the past was an interesting one when it first emerged in the seventies. One nevertheless feels from reading his essays that he hasn't had any other bright ideas since then.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Claffey on July 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
More a story about the author than the subject, ignore Sinclair's part.

This book is actually a projection of Rachel Lichtenstein's search for a particular type of Eastern European, Jewish past. It begins with a tale of an room, undisturbed since its solitary occupier - the Rodinsky of the title - mysteriously abandoned it in the late 1960's. Rachel Lichtestein begins the tale by trying to rediscover her Jewish origins, and discovers Rodinsky's abandoned room above a desolate synagogue in a part of the East End of London which was a Jewish area in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

While the narrative moves along Rachel's attempts to find out more about the life and circumstances of Rodinsky, however it becomes clear that she is overtaken by her imaginings and projects her increasing interest in cabbalistic thought and Jewish mysticism. Her search in London is rather mundane, however the book comes alive when she travels to Poland to visit abandoned Jewish villages in the borderlands of the present-day Poland and Ukraine. It was from this area that a significant number of the East End Jews arrived, following pograms in the late 19th Century. The impact of the devastation of the Second World War and the Nazi genocide is still palpable in the area, especially to Rachel and her companions. There are interesting insights into the devastated folk culture, in particular the Golem - a fictitious, menacing ogre, and the lamed vavnika, a collection of righteous, learned men, whose identities are secret. Their presence and their anonymity, prevent the world from being destroyed. It's a highly evocative tale of vengeful Deities, secrecy and scholarship.
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