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I Pity the Poor Immigrant: A Novel Hardcover – April 8, 2014
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Weaving together the threads of many stories, Lazar starts with Jewish American mobster Meyer Lansky, who walked away from his 1972 trial free but was denied his wish to become an Israeli citizen. In between doling out tidbits of Lansky’s personal life and early years, Lazar crafts masterful fictional characters who seem as genuine as the real-life mobsters: Gila Konig, Lansky’s mistress and a Holocaust survivor; David Bellen, murdered Israeli poet; and Hannah Groff, an American journalist who finds herself deeply wrapped up in Lansky’s story, even though she has never met the man. Blending fact and fiction freely, Lazar insightfully examines the importance of whether the myths we tell ourselves and each other can become their own kind of truth in the end. Pair this with Eric Dezenhall’s The Devil Himself (2011), also about Lansky’s later life. --Rebecca Hayes
A New York Times Notable Book of 2014
"This is a true portrait of history...as understood by characters whose individual parts have been beautifully brought together by a master craftsman."--Antonya Nelson
"Here's a truly exciting novel. The conception is bold, the execution mesmerizing. Zachary Lazar makes the old stories dangerous and urgent again, and reveals the terror beneath our tidy versions of the now."-Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and The Ask
"I Pity the Poor Immigrant is work of intricate and precise mystery, a book that is like a bold monument in an empty desert, a thing built of dread, and silences, and dazzling elegance, by a worldly and masterful hand."-Rachel Kushner, author of 2013 National Book Award finalist The Flamethrowers
"I Pity the Poor Immigrant conveys on every page a radical intensity of emotion and intellect. It's epic in scope and yet, in bursts of fine flinty prose, of great economy. Plus it has gangsters in it, and murder, and old lovers, and, above all, a father and daughter whose story turns out to be a heartbreaker."-Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed
"I Pity the Poor Immigrant is the next iteration of story-making that attempts to tell the truth by means of blending fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and journalism. Like the novels of W. G. Sebald, Zachary Lazar's tale involves a collage of documents, a mix of voices and points of view, to get at the elusive (and inconclusive) nature of human experience. This is a true portrait of history-its circling, complicating elements-as understood by characters whose individual parts have been beautifully brought together by a master craftsman."-Antonya Nelson, author of Bound
"This novel of living myths and the way we manufacture them could not have found a more perfectly paradoxical backdrop: Jerusalem, the spiritual beginning of the West; and Vegas, capital of the other West, where our oldest places are restaged for fun and profit. Zachary Lazar transforms Meyer Lansky from famous mobster to mythic stateless antihero, a figure who might as easily walk out of an airport as out of Sophoclean tragedy."-Salvatore Scibona, author of The End (finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award)
"A...tale involving Meyer Lansky, Las Vegas, an investigative reporter and the murder of an Israeli poet... The connections Lazar makes here are complex and artful." -Kirkus Reviews
"Lazar juggles the elliptical and fragmented narrative effectively; he is also an excellent stylist, cleverly mimicking multiple forms. The author ambitiously makes a point about history-public and personal-and how it can lead to unexpected byways... An interesting and challenging novel." -Publishers Weekly
"Zachary Lazar's brilliant I Pity the Poor Immigrant considers Jewish identity in the provocative and riddling way that Walter Abish's How German Is It asked a similar question about Germans--but Lazar's is ane ven more daring project, for Jews have seldom been willing to look at themselves as perpetrators. Here Lazar deploys once again that signature mixture of panorama, poetry, and intimate observation that he invented in his novel Sway, to evoke the chatoic, hypnotic world of sixties rock and roll. In I Pity the Poor Immigrant, the maze of interlocking voices, bloody crime scenes, and rubble-strewn, blighted cityscapes from the West Bank to the Lower East Side suggests a disturbing question: How Jewish is violence? Lazar never exactly answers: rather, he mesmerizes the reader with a somber, ever moving, kaleidoscopic demonstration: the will to violence, as a strategy as well as a defense, an ambition as well as a compensation, has been with us from the beginning, from King David to Meyer Lansky, from ancient Israel to Las Vegas, New York and Tel Aviv.
These are aspects of the poor immigrant experience that respectably fixed later generations prefer to forget: how some of the first to arrive, however impeccable their excuses, looked about them and too the violent opporunity, used the weak and the greedy, to force their way up, sometimes to the top. And yet, as it catches him in its strange, flickering, unstable narrative light, I Pity the Poor Immigrant somehow generates authentic, if bitter, pity even for a gangster like Lansky, stranded in his habit of silence when the State of Israel refuses to take him in."
--Jaimy Gordon, author of Lord of Misrule
"In between doling out tidbits of Lansky's personal life and early years, Lazar crafts masterful fictional characters who seem as genuine as the real-life mobsters... Blending fact and fiction freely, he insightfully examines the importance of whether the myths we tell ourselves and each other can become their own kind of truth in the end."
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The attraction of I Pity the Poor Immigrant lies in its sheer inventiveness, its surprising juxtaposition of incongruent elements that eventually click into place. Portions of the book are made out of short, polished vignettes that turn around in the reader’s brain like mismatched puzzle pieces until they fit.