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Who By Fire, Who By Blood Hardcover – November 30, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"Jon Papernick's Who by Fire, Who by Blood is a psychological thriller with a complex soul. It's a harrowing, distinguished book." -- Steve Stern, Author of The Wedding Jester, and The Angel of Forgetfulness.

"A writer of enormous talent...This is master writing by a wonderful talent." -- Moment Magazine, December 2002

"Open this book carefully. You will close it changed." -- Dara Horn, Author of In The Image and The World to Come.

"Who by Fire, Who by Blood is a thinking man's thriller - smart, relentless, impossible to put down." -- Jennifer Haigh, Bestselling author of Baker Towers and Mrs. Kimble.

Jon Papernick made his debut as a fiction writer with The Ascent of Eli Israel, a collection of short stories set in Israel that reconfigure his experience as a journalist. What one notices first of all is a feeling for everything that is unnerving, even disorienting, about daily life in contemporary Israel. As a line from the late poet Yehuda Amichai would have it, the three languages of the Holy City are Hebrew, Arabic, and death. In The Ascent Papernick gives all three an evenhanded consideration as he charts the stories of American Jews who have made aliya and who now find themselves intermingled with Israelis and Palestinians -- each group with a separate but equal sense of Israel's blood-soaked history. Who by Blood, Who by Fire will only increase an already widespread feeling that Papernick is one of the few Jewish-American writers able to write about Jewish extremism as it is fueled by religious fervor and Zionism's ultra-right wing. The novel's title comes from Ze'ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), founder of the Jewish Legion and, later, the militant Irgun, who wrote that "Judea fell in blood and fire, and in blood and fire Judea will rise again." Blood and history are what energize this disturbing novel, as its protagonist, Matthew Stone, an alienated young man, gradually comes to terms with a grandfather who was a hit man for Meyer Lansky and who, like Lansky, donated considerable sums of money to the militant Irgun; a father who dishonored himself as a judge but who also heavily funded the activities of Jewish terrorists; and finally Judaism itself. Papernick turns what might have been a dry-as-dust "novel of ideas" into a page-turner -- part thriller, part love story, part psychological profile. Granted, there are sections that ring hollow (Papernick writes about blacks with a heavy hand and a leaden ear) and there will surely be those who will take him to task for obsessing about the pendulous breasts of Matthew's girlfriend, but when it comes to describing yeshiva boys in the grips of chillingly right-wing Zionism: "It is our duty and obligation to history" -- the rabbi intones in his Rosh Hashana sermon -- "to fight those who seek our destruction. We have a blood tie to the land and cannot give up one grain of sand, one blade of grass, as we stand on the threshold of Redemption. The secular government seeks instant Redemption in the eyes of the worldâ¦but this sort of capitulation will ultimately bring tragedy and death not seen since the dark days of Auschwitz." When Matthew's father dies, he honors his memory by reciting Kaddish, poring over boxes of his books, and wearing his judicial robes: "He realized that his guilt fell away as he came closer to his father. He wore the Judge's robe, draped lightly over his skin, and as he read, he felt the unusual sensation of channeling the very spirit of his father"¦. He discovered, as he read, that his father had been tracking the pattern of victimization that brought tragedy and ruin to the Jews throughout their tortured history. And as he read, he realized that his father was prescribing solutions posthumously to the tragic events that had already occurred: a savior out of step and out of time."The result of Matthew's meditations draws him into a search for the missing numbers that will unlock a hidden bank account (gematria, Jewish number theory, and bingo eventually do the trick) and, later, into a plot to assassinate dozens of Palestinian leaders at a Brooklyn rally.Papernick proves himself a masterful storyteller as his complicated plot plays itself out in ways that balance religious faith with religious zealotry. No doubt a journalist would write an opinion piece sharply condemning those who rationalize the murder of political opponents along with innocent bystanders. But Papernick is a novelist; his job is to put believable characters into motion and to observe how things turn out. My hunch is that he is as appalled as are most of us by the prospect of Jewish terrorism, but as journalist who worked in Israel for some years, he knows that it has happened before, and that it is, alas, likely to happen again. -- Sandford Pinsker, New Jersey Jewish News, October 18, 2007

About the Author

Jon Papernick, originally of Toronto, now lives with his wife and son in the Boston area, where he is Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College. He published the collection of short fiction The Ascent of Eli Israel in 2002, and will follow up this novel with a second collection of stories in 2008. He is currently collaborating on a graphic version of this novel with artist Sandy Jimenez.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Exile Editions (November 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1550961020
  • ISBN-13: 978-1550961027
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,830,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Papernick's first collection of short stories The Ascent of Eli Israel was published by Arcade Publishing in 2002 and received a full-page review in the New York Times and a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

Papernick's second collection of stories pursues the conflicted inner turmoil of Jews caught in a modern maelstrom. Publishers Weekly wrote: "Papernick's new collection is tight and fearless." Author Dara Horn wrote: "Every single story here delivers a knock-out punch that will leave you reeling long after you've put it down -- and revising your thinking on what life and love really mean."

His novel The Book of Stone will be published by Fig Tree Books in May 2015.

He is currently writing stories towards his third collection, Gallery of the Disappeared Men.

Papernick is currently Senior Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Blazic on January 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Papernick's first novel exhibits the same concentrated word power found in his short stories. No tricks, no gimmicks- the strength and clarity of Papernick's writing carries the story of one man as he struggles with the death of his father and attempts to understand the Jewish terror network that seems increasingly entwined in his legacy. The sinister atmosphere of Brooklyn's back alleys and abandoned warehouses keeps the reader in suspense until its inevitable, though somehow unexpected, end. The writing is always honest and alternately funny, sensitive and chilling. This book is not for the faint of heart and requires some commitment, the most frightening aspect being that it is entirely believable. But those who are searching for a fresh perspective on the formation of the terrorist mind and the complexities of religious extremism will find it here. Papernick creates a work of fiction in which the characters speak for themselves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy M. Goldberg on April 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I finished this book and within 5 minutes I had put the book in a friends hands demanding they read it. I was drawn into a world that both intrigued and frightened me. The thrilling final section kept me turning the pages and I still need to find more people to talk to about it. Make this a book club selection!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amy Ross on October 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A gripping, fast-paced read, complemented with beautiful, perfectly-observed descriptions. Brooklyn comes alive in these pages, and reading the scene in the bingo parlor, I felt like I was there... The hero's growing assimilation into a terrorist cell was both believable and incredibly creepy.
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