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The Old Religion Paperback – May 1, 2002

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The Old Religion + The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South (With Photographs and a New Introduction by the Author) + Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History (Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life)
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For his second novel, playwright David Mamet chose as a subject the 1914 trial of Leo Frank, a Jew living in Georgia who was falsely accused of the rape and murder of a young girl at the factory he managed. Convicted on the perjurious testimony of the actual killer and several of his coworkers, Frank was later abducted from prison by a mob and lynched. "They covered his head, and they ripped his pants off and castrated him and hung him from the tree. A photographer took a picture showing the mob, one boy grinning at the camera, the body hanging, the legs covered by a blanket tied around the waist. The photo, reproduced as a postcard, was sold for many years in stores throughout the South."

The events are straightforward, and Mamet leaves no doubt over the course of the story as to the final outcome. But he does not portray the events so much as he probes the state of mind of Leo Frank, never relenting from the terse, stylized language familiar to fans of his plays. At the beginning of The Old Religion, despite his awareness of the growing anti-Semitism in the South (or perhaps because of it), Frank suppresses his heritage as much as possible. Even at a seder, "he pronounced the word kosher gingerly, as if to say, I don't disclaim that I have heard it, but I do not wish to say it freely, as to arrogate it to myself on the mere precedent of blood." But as the trial goes on, we are shown Frank's growing realization that, although he has embraced the American way of life, it will not embrace him in return. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this historical novel, playwright, filmmaker, and novelist Mamet presents disturbing cameos of Jewish uncertainty in a Christian world. In 1914, Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner in Georgia, was wrongfully accused of the rape and murder of a white Southern girl. After a trial filled with anti-Semitic venom spewed forth by the prosecutor and vapid statements by a weak defense attorney?as Mamet says, "The attorney had no desire to see Frank acquitted. An acquittal would subject him to the rage of the city"?Frank was castrated and hanged by an angry mob. The first half of the book contains small incidents in Frank's daily life?mainly concerning his desire to be part of the larger secular society?told in the first person with foreshadowing of what is to come. A most disturbing story, told in short, staccato sentences, that would probably have worked better as a play.?Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585671908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585671908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,154,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lauren (lauverf@aol.com) on June 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Being very familiar with the Leo Frank case and the various forms of media that have evolved concerning it (novels, plays, movies, musicals...etc.) I was anxious to see what slant Mamet would take on this most intriguing true story. As usual, Mamet offers a bizarre, disturbing and profoundly intellectual work that provides a whole new look at Leo Frank. Instead of focusing in on the trial or events surrounding it...Mamet takes us on a journey inside Frank's head...we see the mind of a man displaced; trying to make peace with himself, his world and his God. The result is not a page-turner, not a heartfelt and moving account of a man accused, but rather a facsinating examination of the human brain and it's inexplicable way of relating ideas. A worthwhile read for anyone familiar with the Frank case...but a little too heavy and vague for those who are not.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Mamet's prose is never easy, but always rewarding.
In his second novel, Mamet takes as into the mind
of Leo Frank, a New York Jew, wrongly accused of
murdering an employee of his.

As the reader learns about Leo Frank's background and of his trial and eventual unjust conviction, (s)he also gets a piece of Frank's mind pondering the big philosphical and social questions: What does it mean to be a Jew in America? What does it mean to be an American? What is the role of justice, wealth and hard-work? Yet, he also asks himself questions that are both personal and universal: What if he had not come to work on that day? He wonders whether he shouldn't have foreseen the future, and he asks himself as we often do, whether there were any signs he ignored or misread that could have saved him.

In a way, it's a novel about the small and unsovable questions each and everyone of us faces in one's life. And Mamet's depiction of these ponderings are not only brilliant in its clear-ness, but his answers and insights into these questions are also enlighting.

As when he says that when one looks back on one's past and doesn't feel pride but sadness. That's wisdom. Or when he discredits the typical Jewish response to anti-smitism, which is a reference to the contribution of the Jews to society, by claiming that contribution in itself is despicable as it means nothing but 'what have you done for me'.

This is not a melodrama, although the book ends dramatically. Neither is it Hemingway-esque, as the story's emphasis is not on action or plot, it is rather a beautiful account of a man trying to find sense in a senseless situation, by trying to find the answers to his existence. The questions he asks and the answers he gives are often familair, but have never been put so beautifully and with so much insight.
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Format: Hardcover
Mental institution inmates imprisoned for the most bizarre crimes, who believe they are truly innocent, despite being caught red-handed via forensic evidence, will cherish this distractingly schizophrenic book. This book is so disconnected from reality that it takes you into a slow-motion purple cool-aid acid trip at the sanitarium of one flew over the cuckoo's nest, but its more droll than watching re-runs of Canadian curling on VHS. Are free bath salts included on your sojourn into this convoluted jacuzzi? Where is Freddy Krueger, or is he in the sequel?

Alas, this novel very much reflects the deranged collective consciousness, peculiar psychology and psychotic pathology embodying the seditious culture of tribal agitators, who have for a century been fighting against the slow disintegration of the racist anti-Gentile mythology about Leo Frank's martyrdom because of American anti-Semitism. This book is so patently pathetic (21st century definition of pathetic), but yet at the same time, it allows us to enter the mind of the Pulitzer prize winning author who lived his entire life as a self-described left-wing "brain dead liberal" (village voice, 2008) who is now a born again right-wing conservative.

This campy fiction attempts to make Leo Frank out to be a melodramatically disconnected and autistic philosopher, sensitively, and delicately pondering the permutations of each moment in time, but the delivery was so poorly executed, it gives the appearance of insincerity and cringing desperation.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Atar Hadari on August 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In The Old Religion, historical figure Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner in the old American South falsely accused of rape and murder, then imprisoned and eventually lynched by an organised mob, is turned by Mamet into a religious philosopher, an all but obssessive turner over of truths and half truths, propositions and the voices within voices of a disputatious mind from a disputatious people. But the heart of it is still the same: "To be a man," the Rabbi said, was to behave as a man in that situation where there were neither the trappings nor the rewards of manhood: scorned, reviled, abandoned, humiliated, powerless, terrified, mocked. "Now be a man..." the Rabbi said."

And in The Edge, a movie by Mamet, the millionaire played by Anthony Hopkins is an obssessive learner and compiler of facts, a man detached from his emotions, who through the forces of a melodrama plot, (a plane goes down stranding him in the wilderness with his wife's lover, the fashion photographer Alec Baldwin who wants him dead) is forced to confront himself and, stripped to his essentials, survive. In a sense, The Edge is the opposite story to The Old Religion in that the former has as its central motif a canoe paddle on whose two sides a rabbit and a ravenous beast, I cannot quite recall what, co-exist. Why is the rabbit not afraid? "Because he knows he's smarter then the.." Fox, I believe the beast is. It is significant that the line, among the best in the film, is not quite memorable enough to hold the mind. And the central, memorable sequence of the film is millionaire and adulterous rival being forced to collaborate in killing a bear. That bear was more memorable than the characters or the dialogue.
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