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Roots Schmoots: Journeys Among Jews Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 502 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook TP; Reprint edition (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879516054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879516055
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When fast-breaking political events forced British novelist Jacobson ( Peeping Tom ) to put off a trip to Lithuania planned as a search for his Jewish roots, he accepted an offer from the BBC to visit Jewish communities around the globe instead. This informed and witty account of his experiences deals with the wide variety of contemporary Jewish life, as well as with how Jacobson's observations affected his own concept of what it means to be a Jew. Riding an emotional roller coaster, he witnessed the hostility between Jews and African Americans in New York City, attended services in a gay synagogue in California and found his basic cynicism about religion reinforced after he spent time with Orthodox Jews in Israel, although his spirits were lifted by a visit to an idealistic, tolerant Israeli kibbutz. His journey concluded with the postponed trip to Lithuania, where the author found virulent anti-Semitism. The book has been adapted for a forthcoming BBC/PBS documentary.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

In his fiction (Redback, 1987; Peeping Tom, 1985, etc.) and now with this travelogue/sociologue/personalogue about his semi-Jewishness, Jacobson seems fated never quite to cast off the perception of him as a Philip Roth wannabe perpetually one step behind (both in talent and intellectual plasticity) his American master. Given a deal by the BBC and PBS to wander Jewish venues such as the Concord resort, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Israel, and his grandparents' Lithuania, Jacobson is ever defensively atwitter, waving the antenna of his jokey skepticism. He detests the religious like the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Hasidim of Jerusalem not only because they no doubt would be scandalized by Jacobson's gentile wife and his own secularism but also on the grounds of aesthetics: ``How is it that austerity on matters of religious faith and ritual almost invariably accompanies laxity in matters of art, music, proportion, tact, ethics, manners, civic probity, passing decency and whatever else you can think of that isn't religious faith and ritual.'' Had he spent less time flexing his condescension, Jacobson might have been able to arrive at some provisional conclusions as to why (there are an established few, after all, not all of them anti-Semitic, too)--but, instead, his screed is wrapped inside a Carnegie Deli corned-beef sandwich of wise-guy superiority and overeducated disaffiliation. Despite some nice miniatures: a snide, rather pointless, lazy book. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and, most recently, the highly acclaimed The Act of Love. Howard Jacobson lives in London.

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Smith on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
No hatred in this book, although plenty in the remarks of two of the on-line reviewers who are like bit part players in the book itself. Jacobson is erudite, fair, modest, compassionate and compelling. He doesn't pretend to be writing an academic investigation, more a personal journey, and he has the decency to admit that it's an inconclusive one. There is, of course, no point in spending time and money on a book like this if you lack learning and humour, of if you believe that on matters of religion and identity you already have all the answers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Harmon Spolan on July 20, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Howard Jacobson has written a very funny, sometimes poignant, and always insightful book about his travels to various Jewish Communities in the US, Europe, and Israel. His wit is rapier sharp, and his commentaries are always right on the spot. I found myself laughing out loud, and annoying my wife by reading long passages to her, thereby spoiling her fun.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R.W.A. on March 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Roots, Schmoots: Journeys Among Jews is, first of all, funny. One should not come to it expecting to read a balanced, well-researched history/sociology of Judaism, Israel or the Diaspora. Think more along the lines of taking a long, relaxed (but neurotic as all get-out) trip with a very funny man in search of something even he can't quite identify.The chapters describing his time in the US are hilarious and poignant at once. The chapters on Israel are quite well done, capturing the author's exasperated love for the nation and its people, and his often wayward search for justice. Jacobson tries to avoid sentiment at all costs, yet continually finds himself caught up short by a lump in the throat. A very good, very funny travel book. A very good, very funny story of one person's hunt for himself. Not for the compulsively or competitively serious.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
Despite its faults--and there are many--this books opens up an important and much neglected area--how disaffected Jews relate to their own religious identity. The author is able to use humor effectively to blow up the pieties of those who cling to unexamined views of what that identity does or should consist of for themselves and others. There are a dearth of such books and Jacobson is brave for going into unchartered territiory. The problems are that Jacobson is somewhat lazy in his approach--chooses to interview at length a random set of people and fails to do background research that can place some of the views espoused in some sort of perspective. Where the book works is when he arrives in Israel and gets caught up in the lives of some vividly drawn representatives from that country. The Israeli chapters bring out what the author does best --allowing the reader to understand the nuances in his interviewees' own positions as well as the authors' own. The chapter featuring his search for his own roots in Lithunia was close to brilliant. The book badly lacks a closing chapter that is able to put the contemporary Jews dilemmma in a wider historical, literary and philosophical perspective.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Choux Goûter on May 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book, hastily churned out after a BBC-sponsored junket meant to provide a light and humorous view of Jewish culture and identity around the world, is irritating as a travelogue. Yet it is revealing of a British Jew in the early 1990s unsure of what to do with his own Jewish identity. Jacobson, at the time he wrote this book, knew little about Judaism; nonetheless, he spends pages torn between apologising for and defending his marriage to a Catholic from unseen challengers.
Jacobson travels lightly through different Jewish environments, learning nothing. His specialty is ridiculing other Jews: whether painted seniors at Catskill retreats, kind and welcoming Chabadniks, National Zionists, Reform, Reconstructionist, Gay and Messianic Jews. But he is uncomfortable with observant Jews, he realizes that as someone whose professional identity is as a Jew, he should know more, and his embarrassment over his ignorance makes him churlishly and even scabrously mocking. Often he projects sexuality onto the religious as a way of consoling himself. Jacobson is selling himself, a Jew-flavored literary product, to the gentiles, and even his wife has bought him under these pretenses, yet he has no Jewish stuffing in him to convince other Jews. Much of the book is spent searching for someone in the exact same position as his, and he is thrilled to meet a friend in NY with whom to ridicule other Jews, but their community-of-two is clearly a terminal phase for Jewish life.
There are occasional moments of humour and insight, as when he ridicules the Jewish nostalgia for a shtetl life "we wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole if it were offered to us today", but Jacobson is simply too unaware of his inner conflict to be funny most of the time, and appears acid and cruel.
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