Book Reviews

Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen UPDATED

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My Interest

I used to be a big-time international politics junkie. I loved it. Until I didn’t. I realized it made me nervous and affected my sleep and concentration–like social media before social media existed.

Way back in college I had older friends–he was an Israeli by heritage and birth, born the year of independence in Haifa. She left South Bend and immigrated to Israel at age 16. Both served in the Army in the ’68 war. They introduced me to Israeli politics and taught me a graduate level course in Jewish faith, culture, and life. I am grateful.

I learned of this book via this post at A Life in Books. Won’t you click and read her post, too? Bloggers live for comments.

The Story

“The history in my regular schooling was all about progress, a world that brightened with the Enlightenment and steadily improved; a world that would continue to improve illimitably, so long as every country kept trying to be more like America and America kept trying to be more like itself.”

If the name The Netanyahus sounds familiar it’s due to middle boy in this book–Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu,  twice Prime Minister of Israel. He makes the US evening news sometimes. That’s why it sounds familiar.

The story here is of a fictionalized interview for a professorship at a small Liberal Arts College in New York State that Benjamin’s father went to in the 1959-60 school year. The babysitter having pulled out at the last second, Benzion Netanyaho packs up his acerbic wife and their three total hellion sons–Bibi being the middle one, and drives through deep snow in an ancient borrowed car (the car on the  cover is way too new). As Benzion struts his stuff as an expert on the Spanish Inquitions, his wife offends, his sons wreck havoc and the denizens of Corbin College are given an unforgettable course in what not to do on a job interview.

Benzion’s host, Ruben, a professor forced to take the host role because he is the only Jewish professor at Corbin College,  is a humble man–he puts up with playing Santa at a Christmas party, doesn’t deck the mechanic who feels his head asking “Had your horns checked lately” and stoically other macro-aggressions served up in a WASP-y late 1950s liberal arts college. His wife can only watch in horror as the Netanyahu family destroys her home–including the brand new color TV. She has worked hard to be admitted to the society of the college, to try to make headway at the library and has to stand back and watch an acquaintance destroyed by Mrs. Netanyahu–all with out “losing it.” We won’t even “go there” on the problems of Judy–Rueben’s daughter, and what happens when the Netanyahu brothers come to town!

My Thoughts

“and yet the fact remains that the youth today is more sensitive than ever. I admit I don’t know how to understand this phenomenon and have sought to approach it “economically,” asking the question of whether an increase in sensitivity has brought about a decrease in discrimination, or whether a decrease in discrimination has brought about an increase in sensitivity to when, where, and how it occurs.”
 

The quote above was so “today”–right?

This was in parts hilarious. It was a send-up of all the pretentious b.s. of academic job interviews (been there). It is hard to convey just why so much was funny if the reader does not know Academia. The battles over status, the coveted endowed chair professorships, the endless committees and the lifetimes their meetings waste, the search for ever more arcane subjects to become an expert on–it’s drivel, all of it.

But there is an entire class of workers whose economic livelihood depends on convincing people that yes, in fact, the Spanish Inquisitions–multiple–re-converted the Jews to Judaism. [Trust me, that’s not even on the crazy-o-meter today–you should have to read some of the truly “out-there” PhD dissertations even in a relatively sane subject like business!!] The obscene over-production of PhD degree holders has made finding esoteric niches even harder to find then the long-ago mentioned darter snail in a proposed Tennessee dam sight.

While there was much to laugh at, I did feel the book lost some of its luster near the end. I have no clue what makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize so I cannot comment on whether or not the book truly deserved it.

My Verdict

Summa Cum Laude

4 Stars

20-books

Historical Fiction

8 thoughts on “Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen UPDATED

  1. I’m glad to read your review! I read about this book when it won the Pulitzer, and couldn’t quite imagine a book about the Netanyahu family being funny. I’m not that it would be for me, but I’m at least glad to know more about it.

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  2. I definitely remember the Netanyahus name. It seems as though it was always in the news back then. I enjoyed your review and am glad you enjoyed this book.

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  3. I agree with you that it lost some of its luster near the end. I’m not sure why either. Maybe it has something to do with pacing: too fast, too jumbled. I got the vague sense that the characters weren’t really grounded in time and place. The earlier scenes with Ruben’s family were much better, really pretty funny. I’d also say that opening chapter was seriously off-putting and unless you can guess the pompous BS is part of the voice, you might just decide a novel that requires a thesaurus is not worth your time.

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