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Rodinsky's Room Hardcover – February 1, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; annotated edition edition (February 1, 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: #1,167,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
Lichenstein and Sinclair have taken a fascinating and perplexing mystery and have raised it to the status of urban legend. On many levels, their collaborative attempt succeeds admirably: Lichtenstein skillfully (with some elements of a suspenseful detective story) presents her search for David Rodinsky, whose room was rediscovered, virtually untouched, two decades after it had been abandoned, and Sinclair places the story in its many cultural contexts. Yet, in other ways, their narrative falls short: more questions are raised than answered by their book, and Sinclair's contributions occasionally suffer from a parochialism that makes his discussion difficult for the general reader. As Sinclair himself admits, "The more the mystery of Rodinsky was discussed and debated, the dimmer the outline of the human presence."
The book alternates between chapters by the two authors, and Lichtenstein's contributions are far more straightforward. She weaves her investigation into Rodinsky's identity with her own quest for her Jewish identity and ancestry, and I found her chapters to be far more compelling. Unfortunately, Lichtenstein seems a bit out of her depth when discussing Rodinsky's writings. She confesses she doesn't have the background necessary to understand or translate most of the scraps of papers and journals found in Rodinsky's rooms, yet both she (and Sinclair) repeatedly refer to Rodinsky as a talented linguist and scholar (or a cabbalist).
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