by Peter Dornauf
Many years ago I, like Saul Wasserman, went on a bus trip around Europe. Reading A to J The Wandering Jew brought back some memories of places visited, those obligatory for such package tours – the Sistine Chapel, Pompeii, Pisa’s Leaning Tower, the Uffizi Gallery, St Marks Square, Amsterdam’s red-light district, and more.
However, the differences between the two tours are crucial. Saul, the first-person narrator, is a New York Jew, the time is post-9/11, and his coach is not full of she’ll-be-right Kiwis and Aussies.
There are a couple of New Zealanders. The driver hails from here though he gets just a mention, but Saul’s room-mate throughout the journey, David, is a larger character through whose expertise in art history we tag along to galleries en route and listen to discussions about art.
Others on the coach are a varied lot. Among them, young giggly women, an ailing clergyman, an astronomer who is a recent widow, a couple whose relationship doesn’t fully satisfy the woman, and Ahmed a Muslim man on his own. It is the friction between Saul and the latter that provides the novel’s conflict. Saul’s wife has recently left him so he’s not in a good frame of mind, and he blames all Muslims for the attack on his city. He’s belligerent, and his attitude to the man he refers to as ‘the Arab’, and ‘Ahab the Arab’ provokes growing enmity between them, leading to violence.
Much of the text of 452 pages, is taken up by discussions on religion, politics, philosophy, art and music. Saul’s disgruntlement and harsh judgement of the major themes of life is well-drawn –
– Sitting in this concoction of bad taste, I knew myself that religion was a fib, a forgery, one of those comforting fabrications constructed to make life manageable, make death amenable. It was a white lie, perhaps a mauve blue lie to calm the nerves, control fears and coo the spirit. Like air-freshener sprayed in the room of the rotting corpse.
– The universe, it’s a dangerous place. It spawns its young in great numbers, lets them sniff the air, then slaughters them promptly in equal vast numbers.
This is not a book for a relaxing read at the beach. It’s for readers who revel in the cut and thrust of intelligent combative dialogue and are prepared to invest in the mental effort to keep up with it. Some will be challenged by frequent use of swear words.
While there’s much here to recommend this book, the quality of the printed volume lets it down. Though there’s good clear type, any reprint should include a laminated cover to protect it from marking. More importantly, a professional proof-reader needs to be employed to purge it from the large number of errors.
The passengers on my coachload of tourists might have been less intelligent and memorable, but they were more congenial and much less contentious. For that I am very thankful.
Author: Peter Dornauf
Publisher: Handmade Press
Available: Paper: from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or website Peter Dornauf.com; Ebook from Smashwords.