Date with a Dead Doctor by Toni Brill
Synopsis & Review: Midge “Call me Margaret!” Cohen, a former Russian professor turned children’s book author, has been through way too many set-ups thanks to her mother. Since divorcing her veterinarian husband Paul and moving from Ithaca back to New York, Midge has made an enjoyable life for herself, hammering out two girl’s summer camp mysteries and occasionally sleeping with her super, a Russian emigre named Sasha. And even though her mother’s set-ups always go wrong, when called late on a Saturday evening by one Dr Leon Skripnik, urologist, Midge reluctantly agrees to see him. Only as it turns out, he’s only interested in her Russian translation skills. But Midge needn’t hurry, because Leon Skripnik is found dead in his brownstone the next day.
Anxious to turn over Skripnik’s letter, from an elderly relative arriving from Israel in the next few days, Midge tries to reach his ex-wife Phyllis, and is instead mistaken for Skripnik’s mistress. But by the time she convinces Phyllis that she wasn’t in fact Skripnik’s mistress, Midge has become a person of interest as the last person to see Skripnik alive. Of course, with the gorgeous Detective Russo on the case, that might not be so bad. Then undiscovered Chagalls pop up, and yet more Russians, and when combined with Midge’s meddling mother and the sobbing, neurotic Phyllis, things are beginning to get a little out of Midge’s control.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Houghton Mifflin, 10th printing, 2002
Genre: literary fiction, Holocaust fiction, roman à clef
Synopsis & Review: An American named Jonathan Safran Foer comes to Ukraine to search for Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during World War II. His guides are Alex Perchov, a young man enamored of America, and Alex’s grandfather, who insists he’s blind and refuses to speak to Jonathan because he is a “spoiled Jew.” They are also accompanied by Grandfather’s dog, Sammy Davis Jr, Jr, a most officious seeing-eye bitch. From Lvov they travel into the Ukrainian countryside, searching for the shtetl of Trachimbrod—or Sofiowka, depending on whom you ask. Alex, translator for “the hero”—or Jonathan, or the Jew—is our narrator for the story, as we’re reading his version of events, which he has written as a story and sent to Jonathan for criticism. In exchange, Jonathan sends Alex his own novel, the story of his family and Trachimbrod, from the eighteenth century till its destruction by the Nazis. The two novels-within-the-novel are linked together by Alex’s letters to Jonathan, which amplify both narratives. Together, the three men–and Sammy Davis, Jr, Jr–find Trachimbrod, where they learn what happened when the Nazis came. There Alex learns his own past, too, which is tied into Jonathan’s journey, a journey that quickly becomes Grandfather’s as his story moves backward through time to 1943 and Jonathan’s novel moves forward to that point.
I decided I had to read Everything is Illuminated after we saw Liev Schreiber’s excellent (but different) film adaptation last year. It was a near-perfect juxtaposition of the comic and the tragic, and I wanted to see whether that magic was in the book as well. And it was. Read the rest of this entry »