Book Review: The Yid by Paul Goldberg

CaptureTitle: The Yid

Author: Paul Goldberg

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Russia, Jewish, Novel, Literature, Contemporary

Publisher: Picador

Published: February 2, 2016

Page Amount: 321 pages

Blurb From Goodreads: Moscow, February 1953. A week before Stalin’s death, his final pogrom, “one that would forever rid the Motherland of the vermin,” is in full swing. Three government goons arrive in the middle of the night to arrest Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an actor from the defunct State Jewish Theater. But Levinson, though an old man, is a veteran of past wars, and his shocking response to the intruders sets in motion a series of events both zany and deadly as he proceeds to assemble a ragtag group to help him enact a mad-brilliant plot: the assassination of a tyrant.

Why Read: I found the Yid already purchased on my Kindle… But then again, considering the amount of random book-buying moments I find myself in on a daily basis, it’s not too surprising to find books that I may or may not have bought waiting for me. After reading the description, I was fairly sold. Who says no to fun Russian absurdism after all?

Review: There is no question that this book was weird. I’m not even thinking about the plot or the insane characters that come and go t this point: I’m purely talking about style.  It’s not a play, but at times the dialogue is written as though for stage directions. It’s definitely NOT a play, but there are three acts. There’s written Russian, but it’s not in Cyrillic. There’s Yiddish, that somehow is understandable to my German ears. I’m not even at the substantive part of this review and I’m already losing it when trying to describe how this book totally turns your understanding of Russia and the Soviet Union upside down (but in a good way – don’t worry).

Speaking of the plot… one of the reasons I enjoyed Yid so much was how the structure mirrored the chaos throughout the book. When a chapter ended, I was never sure what was coming next. Would a new character arise (and therefore a quick backstory), or would we continue forward in the plans to assassinate Stalin and hopefully halt the upcoming slaughter of all Russian Jews? You never knew. That’s what part of made the book so exciting, and I treasured each moment – even though it was a bit confusing, and at times – it was frustrating to be introduced to yet another character……….. only to see them dead three pages later.

The main characters of the troupe generally tended to stick around, and once the pace picked up – I started to learn their quirks, and understand how humour and theatre tactics were used to construct some kind of acting pretence around this crazy and suicidal mission. What was Levinson doing? Who knew? Most likely he was just “saying shit,” but as the reader, you could never really be sure. The backstories were more daunting, filled with orphans, racism and some really sad moments of clarity. I can particularly remember a moment when one of the characters is reflecting on his move from America to Russia and questioning: racism or political ideology? What leads to a worse end?

In the end, that’s what made this book such an enjoyable read. The tone alternates between dry humour and dark truth in the same page, switches between gruesome violence and laugh-out-loud scenes like something from a Wild Western film, and through to the end: I never quite got the hang of catching on until it was too late. The beauty of this book is in its surprises. They will just keep coming, trust me.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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