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June 20, 2003 - Image 76

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-06-20

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Arts Entertainment
Cover Story


Lose yourself in a great book with our annual
roundup of some of the best recent fiction and
nonfiction titles with a Jewish twist.



By Joyce Carol Oates
(HarperCollins; 307 pp.; $25.95)




ne of America's
most prolific
and honored
writers has penned a
new novel guaranteed
to keep you reading
until you reach the
stunning conclusion.
From the beginning of The Tattooed
Gil-4 Joyce Carol Oakes evokes curios-
ity with her dedication to fellow
award-winning author Philip Roth.
Is it because her main character,
acclaimed writer Joshua Seigl, resembles
Roth in that he is both reclusive and con-
flicted about his feelings about women?
Will the tattooed girl of the title, the
luckless Alma Busch, destroy Professor
Seigl's solitary life, mirroring Roth's
compelling plot in The Human Stain?
Will we witness another tragic rela-
tionship between an intellectual and
an illiterate? Intriguing questions.
Read on.
Alma Busch is pathetic. She has
been abused and stigmatized, appar-
ently homeless, penniless and friend-
less. She has "the look of flotsam that


ven if you haven't had time to pick up a book
all year, when summer comes most people get
the itch to read. Whether you're spending the
summer in your own back yard or vacationing
far from home, the Jewish News has chosen some of the best
new releases from Jewish authors or with Jewish themes.
This year's annual summer reading guide includes such
diverse titles as Joyce Carol Oates' new novel, The Tattooed
Girl which probes anti-Semitism; Stanley Weintraub's biog-
raphical Rothschild love story, Charlotte and Lionel a fasci-
nating window into a memorable age; and Lauren
Weisberger's The Devil Wore Prada, a contemporary novel of
fame, fashion and the boss from hell.
Whatever's your pleasure, you can find it between the cov-
ers of a book.

— Gail Zimmerman
Arts e7 Entertainment Editor

had floated up from the city." Dmitri
Meatte, a sleazy, conniving waiter, sees
she is easy prey when she totters into
The Cafe in upper class Carmel
Heights, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y.
Merely feeding her, he surmises, will
win her devotion — certainly her
body. (Be warned that Dmitri is one
of the more cunning and loathsome
characters in recent literature, a pro-
found Jew-hater.)
Seigl frequents this cafe, where he
enjoys the camaraderie of fellow chess
aficionados and Dmitri's obsequious

service. He has no reason to think
Dmitri despises him for his success and
wealth and also for his Jewish identity.
Ironically, Seigl feels no allegiance to
Judaism, although he is the author of a
critically acclaimed Holocaust novel,
The Shadows. The son of a Jewish
father, he had been baptized a
Presbyterian like his mother.
Seigl's placid, comfortable life
changes when he suffers unsettling
physical symptoms. If he is to finish
his translation of The Aeneid, he will
need an assistant to manage his out-

of-control correspondence.
Impatiently, he rejects every quali-
fied applicant.
So why does he hire mumbling,
bumbling Alma who can barely read?
She is unsophisticated, inarticulate and
inexperienced; yet Seigl overlooks these
flaws, pays her generously and treats
her with uncharacteristic kindness.
Like Dmitri, Seigl is intrigued by the
crude tattoos that mar Alma's face and
hands. Despite this disfigurement, she
is physically appealing. Dmitri uses her
cruelly, unlike Seigl, who maintains his
distance despite a subtle attraction.
As Seigl's symptoms worsen, it
becomes obvious he has a serious,
debilitating disease, and Alma's assis-
tance becomes essential.
Seigl's eccentric sister, Jet, offers help;
so does Sondra Blumenthal, a romanti-
cally inclined colleague. Both women
sense how inappropriate Alma is, but
Seigl is oblivious. Dangerously so.
The viciously anti-Semitic Dmitri
repeatedly expresses contempt for
Seigl. Alma, raised in a destitute min-
ing town on a similar diet of anti-
Semitism, schemes irrationally about
how she can make Seigl suffer and
please Dmitri.
Oates masterfully ups the suspense.
Alma becomes more sinister; Seigl
becomes more helpless.
What follows? Inevitable con-

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