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Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial Hardcover – March 29, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Iphigenia in Forest Hills is a garden of forking paths where at every turn new and contradictory narrative byways open up. . . A brief book but immense if measured by the implications that can be teased out of its sentences." —Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books
(Geoffrey O'Brien New York Review of Books)

"Janet Malcolm has produced another masterpiece of literary reportage"—Geoff Dyer, FT.com
(Geoff Dyer FT.com)

"Reading [Malcolm], you have the sensation of encountering a mind at once incredibly blunt and terrifically precise: a sledgehammer that could debone a shad. That rare and strange effect could only be produced by an intellect as formidable as Malcolm’s."—Kathryn Schulz, Boston Globe
(Kathryn Schulz Boston Globe)

"This is shrewd and quirky crime reporting at its irresistible and disabused best."—Louis Begley, Wall Street Journal
(Louis Begley Wall Street Journal)

"Malcolm eschews the pretense of certainty that most journalists adopt; instead, her process of probing the ambiguities, of investigating exactly how much she knows and does not know, becomes crucial to her narratives. . . . In the rigor of her investigation [Malcolm] reaches a different kind of truth." —Ruth Franklin, New Republic
(Ruth Franklin New Republic)

"A curious, compelling, and somewhat bedeviling book. . . . Malcolm is wonderfully equipped for the task of anatomizing the dynamics of the legal process. Her oeuvre of books has mixed clear-eyed reporting with rigorous investigations into the lures and snares of narrative, and she writes a precise, unflappable prose that seems purpose-built to chart the inflationary theatrics of a high-stakes trial."—Eli Gottlieb, Forward
(Eli Gottlieb Forward)

"It would be hard to pinpoint a common link between Janet Malcolm's many books, other than their consistent brilliance. . . . In Malcolm's hands, this isn't just the story of murder trial; it's a disquisition on the theater of justice. . . . Suffice it to say, after reading Iphigenia in Forest Hills, you are not likely to view future criminal trials in the same light."—Alan Bisbort, The Sunday Republican
(Alan Bisbort The Sunday Republican)

"Iphigenia in Forest Hills is a garden of forking paths where at every turn new and contradictory narrative byways open up."—Geoffrey O'Brien, The New York Review of Books
(Geoffrey O'Brien The New York Review of Books)

"[Malcolm] is obviously a talented journalist who obtains a great deal of information and offers it to her rapt readers with considerable flair. Malcolm raises acute questions about out trial system. . . . Her perceptive analysis provides readers with a great deal to ponder."—Morton I. Teicher, The Buffalo Jewish Review
(Morton I. Teicher The Buffalo Jewish Review)

"Janet Malcolm’s new book, Iphigenia in Forest Hills, is a slim little volume. If it is a cold night and you don’t mind a few wrinkles, you can read the entire thing in the bath. If it is not a cold night, it will feel like one by the time you finish."—Kathryn Schulz, Boston Globe
(Kathryn Schulz Boston Globe)

"Iphigenia in Forest Hills is an incendiary book that begins and ends—like any good epic must—in medias res . . . . It's a story that discomfits as much as it explains. Not for Malcolm the journalism of 'reassurance' or 'rhetorical ruses,' her small book with big stakes and mythic underpinnings flies close to the sun. It unsettles and scorches and soars."—Parul Sehgal, Bookforum
(Parul Sehgal Bookforum)

"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)

"In brave and crisp language, Malcolm formulates a verdict to resonate beyond the courtroom."—David Astle, ABC Radio (Au), The Book Show
(David Astle The Book Show)

"So well written...you not only get the facts of the sensational murder and riveting trial, you get the conflicts and the doubts too. Both intellectual and emotional precision are the guiding forces in this tale of justice."—Jewish Book World
(Jewish Book World)

Finalist for the 2012 Book of the Year in the True Crime category, as awarded by ForeWord Magazine.
(Book of the Year Finalist ForeWord Magazine)

About the Author

Janet Malcolm is the author of Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, which won the PEN Biography Award, The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Reading Chekhov, Burdock, and other books. Malcolm writes frequently for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300167466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300167467
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By kevnm VINE VOICE on May 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was initially disoriented by Ms. Malcolm's account, expecting the "anatomy" promised by the subtitle. The word suggested to me an ordered analysis of a system, in this case the justice system. What the reader gets, though, is a deeply felt meditation on the impossibility of objectivity, the very limited "truth" allowed through the strictures of the legal system, the bewildering treatment of children by legal and social service agencies,the petty tyranny of judges, and our indeterminate sense of equality. Incidents and personalities appear, fade, and reappear, eschewing a temporal, linear flow; This is by no means a straight, suspense-filled true crime account. Rather it is a thoughtful (and appropriately disordered) reflection on why no system that involves humans can ever make complete sense or produce fair, coherent results. Malcolm is a clear thinker and an able guide through this dark territory. Scenes from this case will stay with you a long time. Terrific read.
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Format: Hardcover
It's certainly true that Janet Malcolm is not a traditional courtroom reporter. In this case Malcolm carries you with her in apparent skepticism about the guilty verdict, even as she piles on trial details that would--without her mediation--seem clearly to implicate and convict the defendants, Mazoltuv Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev. Malcolm does everything she can to wring sympathy for Ms. Borukhova, though just about everyone else in this book despises her. We learn that Borukhova has been apparently mistreated by one judge (in a custody battle) and now she is getting less-than-perfect 'justice' from the judge in her murder trial. We further learn that the two keys pieces of evidence against her are dubious (an indistinct, muffled translation of a Russian conversation; and a partial finger print). Whether she is guilty or not I leave to the reader.
What fascinated me about this book is its connection to Malcolm's best book, *The Journalist and the Murderer*. That book revolved around Malcolm's own misgivings about the things that journalists do to get the story. It's a complicated story within a story within a story about one journalist's relationship with a criminal defendant and Malcolm's own relationship with the author. Among other sins Malcolm ruminates about how journalists ingratiate themselves with people they secretly revile--all in the name of getting access to the kinds of details that sell a story.
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Format: Hardcover
Readers expecting a True Crime potboiler should go elsewhere. Instead, we have Janet Malcolm, a literary journalist strongly influenced by psychology and structuralism inquiring, into the possibility of justice in an adversarial trial system. She analyzes the Borukhova case as matter of competing narratives offered by prosecution and defense with a judge acting in a triple role of ringmaster, spectator, and sentencing oracle. Needless to say, while trials of this kind make for good theater, they have a hit-and-miss approach to getting at the truth of matters. Frankly, the hard evidence points towards Ms. Borukhova's guilt, but the theatrics of the system require the prosecutor to go beyond factual presentation and into layering on the story-telling necessary for the jury to visualize and actuate a guilty verdict. The defense tells stories, too, aimed at disrupting the prosecutor's portrait of the defendant as a stressed-out but legally guilty orchestrator of a murder for hire. Malcolm's post-trial interviews with jury members indicate that their perceptions of the defendant's demeanor, personal appearance, and inability to culturally connect influenced them to accept the prosecution narrative, especially the elements that depart from physical or witness evidence of the crime itself.

On the whole, this makes for an interesting book, but Malcolm has covered this ground before. From a structuralist point of view, she clearly finds adversarial trial system an absurdity if truth telling is important to the legal system. I'd be very interested to see her apply the same analytical framework to European-style inquisitorial criminal justice procedures. Do they do a better job of things, or is human justice impossible?
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This is not a true crime book and Janet Malcolm is not an author who seeks to entertain. Nor is she the sort of author who fades into the background of her writing. More often than not, a critique of any of her books becomes a critique of her. Fortunately Malcolm is as ready to rumble as any star of the WWE. To read any of Malcolm's work for a dispassionate recitation of events is to be disappointed and to, well, miss the point. She seeks to understand what the events reveal about us. She does not stand on the sidelines and pretend to be unbiased - she has an opinion and she draws conclusions.

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 ...
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