In a Debut Novel, a Shtetl Frozen in Time Meets the 21st Century

April 29 2021

Located so deep in the Polish forests that its Jews were spared the Holocaust, the town of Kreskol somehow survived to the present day completely cut off from the outside world. Such is the fanciful premise of Max Gross’s The Lost Shtetl, whose plot is driven by the sudden end of these Jews’ isolation. Michal Leibowitz writes in her review:

You’d think this sort of third- or fourth-generation, oh-so-clever riff on shtetl nostalgia wouldn’t work, let alone be sometimes rib-crackingly funny, but Gross pulls it off with the kind of flair that Seth Rogen—whose recent turn as an Ashkenazi Rip Van Winkle in An American Pickle showed just how unfunny such a premise could be—should envy. In part, it’s a matter of commitment. Gross’s novel is well thought out (especially when it comes to explaining what bizarre agglomeration of events might have led to the town’s isolation in the first place), and he’s willing to dive deep into all the possible effects of his alternate-history premise.

But it’s not all just silliness. Consider what happens when, after the world has already begun to doubt the authenticity of Kreskol, a swastika appears on one house in the village. The vandalism seems like the beginning of a dreadful decline in Kreskol’s relationship with its Gentile neighbors (and indeed, it is). But in a darkly comedic moment, the villagers, having missed World War II, need to have the insult explained to them.

Poland’s failure to grapple with the Holocaust drives The Lost Shtetl to its disquieting conclusion, which I won’t reveal. However, I will note that this is where Gross’s fantastical premise is at its most effective. For it’s the very fact of the book’s fantasy that makes many of its other elements both so funny and so heartbreaking, as though even in this wild, improbable alternate reality, some truths cannot be changed.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Holocaust, Polish Jewry, Shtetl

 

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy