Customer Reviews: The Jew of New York
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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on March 10, 1999
I'm a big fan of Julius Knipl, so I looked forward very much to _The Jew of New York_. When I saw that all the reviews of it were either adoring or vituperative, I knew I had to buy it right away. Why had that happened?
Well, now I know. This is a book with prerequisites, and if you don't have 'em, you're going to find the book very difficult. You need to know something about Jewish life in America, particularly the panoply of stereotypes to which they've been subjected (one that gets a lot of play in the book, the idea that Jews somehow smell bad, is not quite so current as it once was). And it helps to know something about the 19th century American brand of crackpot people and crackpot groups.
Finally, you need to know how to read Ben Katchor. If you expect a linear read you'll be frustrated. Each panel needs to be scrutinized carefully, and pages will pass before you catch the significance of certain details. You'll need to learn to like that centered panel that one reviewer hated so's used for reasons, sometimes esthetic, sometimes dramatic.
In the end, I was disappointed in _The Jew of New York_ because I'd hoped for a book first about people and feelings rather than about ideas. The author's aim (my informed guess here) is to show how the majority can simultaneously fetishize minorities and hold them in contempt, certainly a notion with relevance to 1999. But I wish he could have told me about that with more emotion; instead, we get a range of exceedingly eccentric characters, whose hearts we don't really get into.
Anyway, I don't regret my purchase, but if I weren't a Katchor fan, I might.
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on January 27, 2004
Well, first of all, I have to say I'm really surprised by the people who don't like this book. Certainly I don't expect it to be universally loved, but I really disagree with the reasons I've read below. For example, one reviewer criticized it by calling it a "book of ideas." Yes, exactly! And not your run-of-the-mill ideas either. I found it very inventive, original, thought-provoking, and culturally/historically accurate. That's a lot to pull off in less than 100 pages--pages that are largely taken up by drawings. Pictures do say 1,000 words. Second, I completely disagree with the reviewer who noted that you have to know something about Jewish stereotypes. I'm a black African female living in 21st century America, and I had no difficulty understanding the stereotypes or warped values behind them. Maybe it would be safer to say that you need to understand or have been exposed to some type of stereotype in your lifetime. But I have to think that most people who would even pick up this sort of book, would be literate enough to know that the stereotypes depicted, are exactly that. I even disagree that the page layouts were difficult to read. I think if you have ever read sequential art, it's pretty straight-forward. And if you haven't, the process of figuring it out--and it really does become intuitive very quickly--adds to the telling. You *do* find the significance of certain details by kind of puzzling over the images and layout. So I guess if you need hand-holding narratives, then this probably isn't the book for you. But this is the first work by Katchor that I've read, and I am very impressed by his ability to say so much in so few words about capitalism, nature conservancy, race relations, religiosity, sexuality, theatre, etc. and how these things comprise /conflict with "progress" and the belief every age has that it is the epitomy of advanced human development.

I first heard of Katchtor when reading The Narrative Corpse, a story told by 69 artists and edited by Art Spiegelman. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people who had a negative reaction to it, had similar comments as can be found here. That the "story," as such, wasn't linear, etc. But again, I feel like those readers really missed the point. Anyway, I'll save that review for that book, but if you're not so hung up on context, The Narrative Corpse is another that you might enjoy, though the two books couldn't be more dissimilar.
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on March 23, 2015
The Jew of New York, a graphic novel set in the 1830s (a period where results of the Enlightenment were newly evident), is IMO a vision of the crisis of Jewish identity in the modern world. It is equal to the work of humorists such as I B Singer, Steve Stern, and Nathan Englander, as well as the great graphic artist Wil Eisner (A Contract with God, Wil Eisner’s New York).

Katchor weaves together various stories of Jews involved in entertainment, the preparation of food and drink, the importation of buttons and beaver pelts, and a scheme to found a utopian community of Jews and native Americans, the lost 10 tribes of Israel. Many of these stories are about the purveying of sacred materials to secular consumers. Illusion is as important as money. There is an undercurrent of “lascivious dream[ing]” and voyeurism. The most bizarre character is an obsessed devotee of an aging stage actress, whose pictures he has posted on trees in his private grove, a parody of a religious sanctuary, implying secularization, and eroticization, of religious sacrifice. Another character is an anti-Semitic writer who wishes to put into a popular play (The Jew of New York) his beliefs about Jewish venality. Yet he has a symbiotic relationship with the Jewish people, and says that “without the Judeo-Christian ethos,” his own work would be “cheap burlesque.”

The remote setting is perfect for lending a detached point of view to the events, which Katchor undercuts with both irony and sympathy. The book is far too complex to be characterized as a conservative art form such as satire.

Katchor is very original, historically acute, and wry. The faces he draws are revealing in their frozen-featured shapes and outsized noses and mouths, with intense eyes interestingly contrasting to facial expressions and postures.
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on February 18, 1999
Katchor seems to define his own idiom. While other reviews have focused on the "graphic novel", "The Jew of New York" goes far beyond this genre, and offers a unique dream-like perspective of Katchor's own strange world and masterful character portrayals.
Each Character is in fact developed brilliantly, and the whole complex story, from its Hebrew speaking Indian, to its gastrically obsessed Kabbalist, all form threads that seem to come together into a single and perfect ending.
This book is not only a pleasure to read and reread, but it's a pleasure to get lost in; to wander with the characters through an imaginary old New York, and see thier lives, schemes, and very human reactions, their triumphs and their pitfalls. I have bought two copies for friends already!
And, to anyone who doesn't know about castoruem, it's a must have book.
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on January 21, 2016
It's really great.... but I do admit it was hard for me to get into... it might be because it was difficult to read in the way the dialogue was presented-- aka, very small and very dense... but must give the guy credit for an extremely interesting take on a time in NY and on Jewish identity. Definitely unique.
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VINE VOICEon October 2, 2012
I feel like a traitor writing this review because I'm huge fan of Ben Katchor's work. This book is series of non sequiturs that never turned into a coherent work of fiction. In the first 30 pages I thought there might be some hope of an interesting idea emerging. But by page 50, out of a hundred pages, I had given up hope. When I got to the end there was nothing positive I could say about the experience. I think Katchor's forte is brief snippets revealing the mystery of urban reality. In this longer work, staged in post-colonial America, Katchor seems out of his element. Some might presume that perhaps I don't understand the social and political milieu of this era. Such is not the case and I still found this narrative indecipherable. I understood the significance of the isolated incidents and characters but it never solidified into a meaningful narrative. But I do understand the fine line between mysterious and indecipherable. Perhaps others won't have my difficulty.

The author did bring up many idiosyncratic and strange moments in American history. But I had little sense of what was tweaked reality and what was pure invention. In small doses that can be quite mysterious, but at some point the author has to give clues as to his intent. I love his Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. I think Katchor is one of America's most intriguing cartoonists and comic book writers. He just couldn't pull this one off.
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on April 13, 2012
If you're even considering buying it buy it now. "The Jew of New York" is a work of comic genius on par with Infinite Jest or The Dice Man for its shear unrelenting absurdity and satirical power. All I can say if you don't like this book is YOU ARE NOT PAYING CLOSE ENOUGH ATTENTION. A graphic novel that conflates anti-semitic stereotypes with the unstoppable rise of industrialization and consumerism in America? You mean that book actually exists? And it's so funny I literally hurt myself reading it? And you can buy it right now on! Seriously do it. This would easily land on my short list of comics I would use to prove that comics can be brilliant works of art. Buy it. You need to read it. It is so good you have no idea.
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on February 20, 1999
What an amazing book. I found myself torn whether to linger over particular panels or rush on to find out what happened next. Katchor clearly inhabited the archive for a long time before putting this together, and he really captures the beauty, strangeness, and confusion of Jewish life in the early republic. Complex and funny storyline, often surpisingly moving. And although the drawing style is a bit crude, the design is always subtle -- the overall effect only adds to the weirdness. Just brilliant, brilliant work.
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on August 25, 1999
Ben Katchor's magical, sketchily precise illustrations lead us through a grey other world where people face problems none of us will ever know. Or fathom. But who cares! Every step of the way is uniquely Katchor's, grounded in a strange logic that seems to make perfectly good sense... at least to his characters. A wealth of invention infuses every page, conjuring exotic maladies, bizarre business enterprises and wierd obsessions.
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on January 5, 2011
Ridiculous book that had me cracking up at the first page. If you like Katchor, then this will delight you. If you're unfamilar with him, then this may get you interested in his other work. Especially effective if you are 'of the faith'.
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