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November 30, 1984 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-11-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Friday, November 30, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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Gross"Rachel' sequel suffers
from overkill of sex and violence

BY JOSEPH COHEN
Special to The Jewish News

WED., DEC. 5 & 12 - 7:30-9:00 P.M.

Counselor & Educator
in Human Sexuality
559-0010 & 0011

BOOKS

v

We can "hearty" wait to
tell you about the alt new

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Sunday, December 9th, 10 to 5
the Birmingham Temple

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when you see aft the exciting
new handcrafted gift items!

For the novelist, the uses of his-
tory are many. For the Jewish
novelist, Jewish history is an in-
credibly rich resource. The annals
of the Jewish people are a unique
record of tragedy and triumph
across space through time. In
every age, Jews have been as-
sailed, and it is confict that is the
stuff from which both history and
fiction are made.
But there is a danger in trans-
forming the generalities of his-
tory into the particularities of fic-
tion. Writers tend to over-
emphasize the keenness of the
razor's edge of tension and strife,
sacrificing perspective and allow-
ing the imagination if it is not suf-
ficiently disciplined to run riot
with perceivable reality.
It is not surprising then, to find
Joel Gross taking us in The Lives
of Rachel (New American Li-
brary), to that razor's edge. In this
successor to The Books of Rachel,
the lives of five earlier Rachels,
each of whom lives at a critical
time in Jewish history, are poised
on the blade's edge. All five are
linked by familial descent (their
genealogies are an ingenious if
unconvincing and confusing fab-
rication), craftsmanship as work-

Joseph Cohen is director of the
Jewish Studies Program at
Tulane University.

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ers or alchemists in precious met-
als and gems, red hair, and a
growing myth to which each con-
tributes her share of heroism,
faith and passion. Trapped in des-
perate circumstances, they are all
tested and found to be women of
valor.
For the first two Rachels, valor
is transmuted into martyrdom.
Rachel of Modein, 20 years old
and pregnant, is executed by King
Antiochus in 168 BCE for refus-
ing to reveal the whereabouts of
her husband Saul, who kills the
king's favorite general in thepan-
cratium, a barbarous gladitorial
sport in which he is forced to par-
ticipate. Her death is a contribut-
ory factor in fomenting the revolt
of the Maccabees. The second
Rachel, 16, is taken into slavery
by Pompey's legions in 63 BCE
and vilely sexually by his General
Manilius, whom she kills. She,
too, is executed.

"The Lives ofRachel"
by Joel Gross, New
American Library

Rachel number three fares bet-
ter than her predecessors. After
her young husband is slain in
England by marauding Saxons in
486 CE, she is given the honor, as
the country's finest ironworker, of
designing and making the great
jewelled sword to be wielded by
Artorius, her married would-be
lover, the Briton who will
triumph over the invading Saxons
and save London from destruc-
tion. For Artorius, read King Ar-
thur, for the sword, read Ex-
calibur. For the unsuspecting
reader's willing suspension of dis-
belief in this amazing concatena-
tion of history and legend, substi-
tute "an unwilling and badly
stretched credulity."
Since Gross must believe that
nothing exceeds like excess, the
reader's credulity is stretched
further by Rachel number four,
who saves the Jews of Nicomedia,
near Constantinople, in 756 CE.
When the bubonic plague erupts,
the mob holds the Jewish commu-
nity responsible. Its destruction is
averted as this Rachel brings to
bear her powers as a faith-healer
knowledgeable about the medici-
nal properties of precious gems.
She saves a young non-Jew from
certain death while her fiance, an
exceptionally well-trained physi-
cian, stands around helplessly.
By contrast, the fifth Rachel
can save only herself and her
daughter in 1096 when the in-
famous People's Crusade levels
the Mainz ghetto, killing 1,000
Jewish inhabitants. The commu-
nity is lost, but the continuity of
Rachels is preserved.
Gross' first Rachel book sold
300,000 hardcover copies and
more than one million paperback
copies. I have no doubt that this
sequel will also ring a lot of cash
registers. It's out in a first
hardcover printing of 50,000
copies and is a Book-of-the-Month

Club alternate selection. The
sales are assured because Gross is
heavily into melodrama, violence
and sex. His approach is visceral.
It is enhanced by a rapidly moving
narrative, and encompassed by a
sense of high adventure. If this
book were soon to be a major mo-
tion picture and Errol Flynn were
still around, he could, circumsized
or not, play several of the male
leads. It's his kind of story. It's
that simple-minded.
Some readers will be attracted
to the book by its narrative power,
and some by its portraits of valor-
ous Jewish women, practically all
of whom are as passionate as they
are courageous. Apart from their
Jewish spouses, they attractive
pagan and Christian lovers like
flies and squelch them like fleas.
Their red hair drives men mad.
Nonetheless, these heroines are
all two-dimensional, too much the
product of Gross' well-intentioned
but ill-conceived fantasizing.
Nothing ever relieves the
monotony of their blind virtue
and faith. They are always under
siege and always finally trium-
phant, even when it costs their
lives.
Everything is oversimplified.
Life isn't like that. History isn't
either. If the stuff of history is con-
flict, the outcome will be unpre-
dictable. To be convincing, litera-
ture must also invite the same
unpredictability and avoid the
gratuitous reductionism that pre-
vails in these linked stories.
Some will find Gross' tome
engrossing; in the end, I was gros-
sed out.

NEWS

Anti-Semitism down
in France, poll says

Paris (JTA) — Anti-Semitism is
decreasing in France though
other forms of racism are gaining
ground. This is the conclusion of a
public opinion poll conducted at
the request of the League against
Anti-Semitism and Racism
(LICRA) and released Monday.
The poll showed that only a
minute fraction of Frenchmen
harbor any sort of anti-Semitic
sentiments but that 26 percent of
those questioned back the ex-
treme rightwing leader Jean-
Marie Le Pen's opposition to
foreign workers in France, espe-
cially North Africans and other
Arabs.
The poll was released during
LICRA's 35th annual congress.
According to the poll, 61 percent
of those questioned believe there
are too many foreigners in France
and 85 percent favor expelling all
unemployed aliens.
LICRA President Jean Pierre-
Bloch warned against this
dangerous racist tendency and
appealed to all humanitarian and
civic-minded organizations,
Catholic, Protestant, Moslem and
Jewish to work together againSt
racism and for the rights of
people.

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