Saturday, September 11, 2021

Joshua Cohen


It would be hard to read The Netanyahus -- Joshua Cohen's novel of American Jewry -- without channeling the ghost of Philip Roth. In fact, I think it would be impossible.

The Netanyahus, which was published this year, takes as its themes many explored by Roth: assimilation, identity, and sexuality -- just to name a few. This is a novel which is both humorous and profound; it's a novel confined in space and time, but which transcends both, and which offers a message which becomes far more universal. 

Were The Netanyahus written by Roth, we'd have read a different novel: one thicker and more evolved; one less reliant on certain tropes or associations. The novel would have been funny, but less as a result of action, and more because of innuendo.

All of that said, Joshua Cohen has written something lasting: here are American Jews, chosen by God, but living in a land of seemingly infinite choice. And more: here are American Jews, fearful of the assumption that they will favor one another, and in so doing, weaken their acculturation.

There are moments in The Netanyahus which really are quite funny, and there moments which are equally sad and poignant. I would not claim that the novel is as complete as one written by Roth. But as it pertains to American Jewry, each generation of Jewish writers offers its assessment, its rendering -- and Cohen has certainly set the bar for contemporary novelists. 

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