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Moving Kings: A Novel Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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“A Jewish Sopranos . . . burly with particularities and vibrant with voice . . . utterly engrossing, full of passionate sympathy . . . [Moving Kings] is a book of brilliant sentences, brilliant paragraphs, brilliant chapters. . . . There’s not a page without some vital charge—a flash of metaphor, an idiomatic originality, a bastard neologism born of nothing. . . . Cohen is an extraordinary prose stylist, surely one of the most prodigious in American fiction today. . . . His sentences are all-season journeyers, able to do everything everywhere at once. . . . A crystalline novelist with a journalistic openness to the world.”—James Wood, The New Yorker
“Moving Kings is brilliant. . . . It opens as a comic portrait of a midlife crisis, but concludes as a somber cautionary tale frothing with cataclysms, including fire and gunplay. It starts tucked deep into a subculture—in this case the peculiarities of running a New York City–area moving company—but expands to consume whole swaths of race and religion. It comes on as unassuming yet stylish, but circles around tricky questions of occupation and power in the U.S. and Israel. And yet none of it feels messy or overreaching—indeed, it feels master-planned to slowly unsettle your convictions, as the best novels do. . . . [Joshua] Cohen has a brain-on-fire intellect and a Balzac-grade enthusiasm for understanding varieties of experience.”—Los Angeles Times
“An astute and often penetrating look at a divided world, lightened with sympathy for all its flawed protagonists.”—The Guardian
“A svelte comic triumph that concentrates [Cohen’s] genius . . . a fantastically agile style . . . Cohen explores themes of power and Jewish identity with the same insight that has justly attracted praise from some of the country’s most sophisticated writers.”—The Washington Post
“Joshua Cohen has become one of America’s top young novelists. . . . His new novel, Moving Kings, is the tale of a modern-day King David. . . . Cohen’s writing is filled with sharp turns of phrase and elegant rhythms. . . . The denouement is as vengeful as any Old Testament plot twist.”—Time
“Moving Kings is a swift, darkly funny, surprising—and brilliant—novel. . . . [Cohen] manages to bring together a treatment of 50 years of the Palestinian occupation with a story about American gentrification.”—Vice
“Cohen stuns, he dazzles, he defies. . . . His talent . . . is a youthful one, bursting with ambition.”—Bomb
“A novel with tremendous moral and political depths.”—The Guardian
“Snappy, heartfelt, vivid, and often note-perfect in its depiction of displacement, aging, and the compromises of being part of an occupying force.”—Karan Mahajan
“This lively story of the fraught ties that bind an American, Republican Jew and his Israeli family makes another strong case for Cohen’s admission into the ranks of the Great American Novelists.”—Esquire
“A swift-moving highbrow comic adventure.”—Vulture
“Joshua Cohen’s Moving Kings is a lit fuse, a force let loose, a creeping flame heading for demolition, and Cohen himself is a fierce polyknower in command of the moving parts of the human predicament. A master of argot and wit, he writes the language of men in a staccato yet keening idiom of his own invention.”—Cynthia Ozick
About the Author
Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. He has written novels (Book of Numbers), short fiction (Four New Messages), and nonfiction for The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, London Review of Books, The Forward, n+1, and others. In 2017 he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. He lives in New York City.
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It is true, as my headline suggests, that this is a novel about contemporary issues of great importance, great dramatic impact, and almost impossible complexity. The conflicts in the Middle East, the problems of immigrants (not all of which are caused by native prejudice against newcomers or strangers), the impact of the economy of radical inequality and rapacious greed that has displaced most standards of social justice and equity in the United States, all of these are important crosscurrents in Cohen's novel. At his best, he forces our attention toward the human costs of these conditions and political disruptions. But even the final (clumsily staged, I think) semi-apocalypse is sadly ineffective, in part because much of it has been telegraphed in advance by passages earlier in the novel.
I wish I could give this novel a stronger recommendation, since it confronts issues of undeniable importance, and it forces serious thought that cannot simply settle for comfortable solutions. It is not the commitment of the novel to serious exploration of such important human dilemmas, but its artistic imperfections that finally leave me sadly unsatisfied.
The book proceeds in three sections. The first describes David King, an American Jew who runs a moving company in New York City. The second section is about his Israeli cousin who comes to work for him, and the final section deals with a ravaged black American whose house is foreclosed upon, and whose property the moving company comes to collect. The third section is by far the most interesting in the book, and while one might argue that the first sections are necessary to establish the characters and circumstances, this might have been done more parsimoniously. The discussion of David King's daughter, Tammy, was the most (only?) interesting material in the first part of the book. The discussion of different kinds of customers utilizing King's Moving was the most (only?) interesting material in the second part.
Cohen seemed to lack some perspective on his material; long passages relate the relationships between characters who just are not very interesting. And some quirks in his narrative style quickly become irritating. Among these, the combining of two-word phrases into portmanteaus, sometimes multiple times on a page (p. 74 for example gives us revolvingdoors, realestate, bellytees, and others). The book raises numerous themes, from the ways in which Israeli Judaism differs from Judaism in the diaspora, to the effect of military service on those who have been discharged, to our obligation to family members. On the basis of the book's subject matter, I thought Cohen would develop the parallels between King's Moving emptying out the houses of those brought low by the 2008/2009 financial crisis and the work the Israelis had previously done destroying the houses of Palestinians when they served in the IDF. And while this does appear a bit in the final section of the book, it is not given any special prominence. None of the themes, I think, are given any special prominence, and beyond a summary of its minimal plot, I'm not sure how Cohen would answer if you were to ask him "what is this book really about?"
I thought the story line was good, but I didn't enjoy the style of writing and that's the reason for the three stars.