The Netanyahus ~ by Joshua Cohen

Just what I needed!  Yes!  Good fiction – really good literary-historical fiction and also quite funny as well. Also, this book is quite a ride.  The book i’s a mixture of fiction and nonfiction so, because it takes place in 1959-1960, I’d say it’s historical fiction or maybe creative historical fiction? Heh.   

The Netanyahus 
by Joshua Cohen

2021 / 
Read by David Duchovny, Ethan Herschenfeld 8h 31m
Rating: 9.5 / contemp lit fiction 
Pulitzer Prize in Fiction – 2022

The full title of this novel is, “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family.” I’ve not read anything else by Cohen, but that may change. 

The Netanyahus is a heavily fictionalized account of the meeting between Benzion Netanyahu (father of Benjamin, Israel’s prime minister) and Harold Bloom (noted literary critic) which takes (took) place at Corbin College (Cornell University?) in upstate New York in the winter of 1959-‘60.  Ruben Blum is the name of the protagonist but it’s Harold Bloom minimally disguised (and Cohen interviewed Bloom years ago).  Meanwhile, Benzion Netanyahu and his family are called by their real names. Benzion is being interviewed for a job which the historical Netanyahu did get.   

The narrative starts out kind of funny and moves on to hilarious. That quality combined with literary-historical ideas is a rare combination these days, but there are Jewish authors like Henry Roth (Call It Sleep – not too funny), Meir Shalev (The Blue Mountain – very funny), Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – quite funny) Howard Jackson (The Finkler Question- hilarious), etc and many many more – all historical/humor.  So how fares Joshua Cohen and The Netanyahus? My eyes were wet from laughing toward the end.  I googled a lot.    

This book won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and it looked really good so I simply sampled and got it. It’s a book of ideas about Jews, life, college, history, family, etc.   

 Ruben Blum, “a Jewish historian who happens to be Jewish but does not study Jewish history” teaches at Corbin College in mid-state New York.  He finds himself on the committee to interview the candidates for a position as an historian because the college is hiring a Jewish historian and therefore Blum would know, right?  Blum has to tell the committee if the candidate, Netanyahu, is appropriate and they really want him to be. 

Netanyahu is a kind of revisionist, “The only way out of Gentile history is through Zion.”  Yes, there are serious parts, but it’s still funny in various ways.   

Netanyahu’s wife and three sons have come with him in an old battered car he borrowed. They end up staying with the Blums, Benzion, his wife and his teenage daughter who has her own problems.     

Interesting background and an excellent review:  

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family

There are lots of resources to check stuff out on the web. I like to see what parts of historical fiction are indeed historical (can be verified elsewhere) and what parts are fiction. I’m not judgmental about it. If the item happens to look true I think Good on the author’s research. If it’s not at all verifiable then it’s good on the author’s imagination. The range of historically accurate accounting historical fiction is amazing. It runs from a book sounding like a nonfiction biography to an entirely made-up story – see Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut.

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