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November 28, 2003 - Image 110

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-28

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

Fresh Fish, Seafood,
Crab, Lobster, Steak

On The Bookshelf

The Music Of Assimilation

Changes are on the horizon.. Something new will arrive after
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Mahler, intermarriage and the Marx Brothers in
Joseph Skibell's "The English Disease."

SAND EE BRAWARSKY
Special to the Jewish News

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T H E
harles Belski grew up in
Karkel, Texas, with its
tumbleweeds and dusty
ENGLIS H
SEAS E
plains. Whenever his
teacher said anything about Jews
or Judaism, the entire class of 28
kids "would unfailingly turn, as a
single body, and look at him."
For Belski, this is not an auspi-
cious beginning for a confident
Jewish identity: He grows to be a
man of little Jewish knowledge
but great longings, a man who
doesn't believe in God but feels
abandoned by Him.
In his Hebrew school class, he
was the only boy, and although
his sister convinced him that he
was obligated to marry a Jew, he
couldn't imagine a life with any
of the three Jewish girls his age.
JOSEPH SKI BELL
So his path to
intermarriage
begins early; he's
the self-described
Isabelle are on a tour of the
"Jesse Owens of
Southwest, viewing ruins, in an
intermarriage,"
effort to save their marriage.
running into the
Belski specializes in "music's most
marriage bed of a
melancholic genius," Gustav Mahler,
gentile woman
and the two men have complicated
more quickly
Jewish
identities in common. This is
than had been
a
novel
that turns assimilation inside
thought humanly
and out, playfully unraveling the
possible. But not Joseph Skibell: Like
without a full
the protagonist of his entanglements of modern life, look-
ing at love and faith and alienation
serving of guilt.
novel, the author
in ways that are daring, very funny
When Belski, a
grew up in a Texas
and
also stirring.
sometimes likable
town with very few
The
author of an award-winning
cranky cynic, is first Jews.
first
novel,
A Blessing on the Moon,
encountered in
Skibell has been mentioned by sev-
Joseph Skibell's fine
eral critics as traveling in the literary
new novel, The English Disease
tracks of Isaac Bashevis Singer and
(Algonquin Books; $23.95), he's a col-
Philip Roth, but he seems to be mak-
lege professor whose field is musicology.
ing his own firm imprint.
The book's title is explained in the
Skibell, 43, grew up in Lubbock,
opening sentences: "English melan-
Texas,
where he v,Tas one of few Jews,
cholics used to tour the ruins of
often
faced
with the kind of head-turn-
Antiquity as a cure for their depres-
ing reaction that Belski encounters.
sion, which was, in fact, at the time,
But, in an interview, he's quick to
called the English Disease." It was
point out that the novel is not autobi-
thought that viewing dilapidated but
ographical. He offers what he calls his
still beautiful buildings might make
standard
line: "Whereas I've experi-
their own crumbling lives seem to be
enced
almost
everything that Charles
stately piles of beauty.
experiences,
Charles
has very little
Belski and his non-Jewish wife

C

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2003

82

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