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Judenstaat: A Novel Hardcover – June 21, 2016
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“A story that, despite being preposterous, feels altogether real.” ―New York Times Book Review
“Judenstaat is a novel of vast historical imagination―also a fantasy engendered from grief, from love, and from the devastating particulars of Europe's 20th century tragedy. It's a work of great feeling.”―Ken Kalfus, Faulkner Award finalist and author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country
“Zelitch deftly weaves the personal and the political.” ―Jewish Daily Forward
“The glory of Simone Zelitch’s page-turning alternate history is the uncanny precision with which she has deftly transformed the threads of actual events into the stunning new fabric of her novel.” ―Book Page
“Like Ari Shavit’s recent book about the founding of Israel, My Promised Land, Zelitch’s Judenstaat raises some profound questions about the cost of the Zionist enterprise.” ―Jewish Book Council
“Judenstaat reveals the dichotomies fracturing Jewish life―religious and secular, reactionary and reformist―in an attempt to engage with the larger question of what it means to be Jewish in a post-Holocaust world.” ―Shelf Awareness
“Beautifully told, thoughtful and disturbing alternate history.” ―BoingBoing
“A philosophically resonant tale about the shaping, and force, of collective memory.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Simone Zelitch is the author of several novels, including Louisa which won the Goldberg Prize for Emerging Jewish Fiction. her work has been featured on NPR and recent honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
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Zelitch is a strong writer, and this novel is more literary than many in the counterfactual genre. She creates a well-developed and detailed world, and the story at the core -- a documentary filmmaker's somewhat reluctant effort to make a film revealing parts of Judenstaat's history that many would rather forget -- is an interesting one. The book's chief flaw is that the story is sometimes obscure and inaccessible; events are introduced as if partly already told. I sometimes felt like I had missed a chapter here or there.
One very interesting element is that Judenstaat is on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain, and the nation's orthodoxy holds that the Soviets were liberators despite Stalin's own anti-Semitism. But Zelitch does not make it quite clear just what the politics of Judenstaat are like. The book takes place during the Cold War's thaw, in 1987 and 1988, yet it seems that while Judenstaat is allied with the USSR, and even took part in suppressing the Prague Spring, it is not a Soviet client state, as it has a multi-party system, generally free elections, mostly free markets, and freedom of expression.
There is a timeline of Judenstaat's 40-year history at the end of the book, and I suggest reading it before reading the novel itself -- I wish I had done so. It won't really spoil anything, and it will provide a grounding in this AH world that I would have liked to have had.
This novel is rich and imaginative. Zelitch has courage to challenge history as we know it and to create characters of great depth and brilliance - flawed, but intellectual heavyweights.
After I read this novel, it stayed with me.