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Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial Hardcover – March 29, 2011
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"Absorbing . . . . Iphigenia in Forest Hills casts, from its first pages, a genuine spell—the kind of spell to which Ms. Malcolm’s admirers (and I am one) have become addicted."—Dwight Garner, New York Times Book Review (Dwight Garner New York Times Book Review)
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Malcolm, a journalist, and author, sets out to show us, having sat through the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, a doctor, who was accused in 2007, along with a man that she supposedly hired, to kill her husband, Daniel Malakov, an orthodontist. The motive, that he had gained full custody of their 4-year old daughter. Malakov was shot in broad daylight, while holding his daughter’s hand walking into a playground, handing her off to her mother. The shooter was the man that Borukhova hired. It was a gruesome scene.
Both husband and wife lived in Queens and are Bukharan Jewish immigrants. Their families are complicated to say the least. The quarrels over custody of their young child were complex. The mother accused the father of sexually abusing their daughter. He was not able to be alone with her and then suddenly, he was awarded full custody.
Borukhova was found guilty along with her accomplice. You would think that having read so many thrillers of late that don’t seem even somewhat plausible that I would feel apathetic even when it comes to a story like this. I remind myself that this is true crime. And that atrocious crimes are committed by people who are truly sick and you never know what triggers someone or what goes on behind closed doors let alone in the middle of a playground.
The bare facts are: Mazoltuv Borukhova is accused of hiring an assassin to murder his husband in front of her. Borukhova and the hired killer are put on trial, a highly imperfect trial in Malcolm's estimation. Her idiosyncratic take is on every page: "But rooting is in our blood; we take sides as we take breaths." It takes a bold writer to indulge in this herself: "That's what I think was going on. No one will ever be able to prove it. But that's exactly what happened."
Malcolm wants readers to see that we all impose our own interpretation on the testimony. We construct our own narrative, based on our own experiences and prejudices. We may seek the truth, but our version becomes the truth. "We explain and blame. We are connoisseurs of certainty." She offers her own version and, be warned, she is sympathetic to Borukhova. Malcolm wants to know what drove events and expands her search beyond what is said in court.
If you haven't like Malcolm's earlier books, you won't like this one. I have a soft spot for a writer who can sidle up to a prospective interview and offer the following reporter's come on "I went up to him and asked if Anna Freud's project ... had been an influence on his work." Combine that unashamedly intellectually approach with Malcolm's pointed ruminations on the impossibility of narrowing accountability for a crime into a narrative that will fit into a courtroom and you have a compelling, unsettling book.
Although the stars in this unfortunate slice of life were Orthodox Jews, it teaches concerning not
only them but also the liberties within America desired by those wishing to impose Shariah Law
on at least Muslims