The Hazards of Expectation Mismanagement

on Thursday, March 22, 2012
One of the fringe benefits of my recent presentation at the opening of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia was perusing the shelves and finding two more novels by I. J. Singer, author of one of my all-time favourite books, The Brothers Ashkenazi. I had not heard of either book (admittedly I didn't exactly search them out with any particular fervour) and so stumbling across them pretty much made my day. It's been a long while since I've borrowed a book from a library and so I was immediately struck by a crushing sense of urgency - I would need to read them both before the return date lest I rack up the sort of fines I haven't seen since my teenage years. Thankfully, neither Yoshe Kalb nor The Family Carnovsky are Ashkenazi-length bricks. Also, quite fortuitously, I was heading off on a holiday to Tasmania the following day, so I figured I should pack one amongst my paper travel companions and knock it over straight away. I opted for the shorter of the two, Yoshe Kalb.

The novel tells of two rival rabbinic dynasties brought to the brink of civil war thanks to a rather odd character who might be Nahum, the learned but tortured youngster of Nyesheve, or Yoshe the loon of Bialogura, or both. Its recounting of the rising religious tumult set against the backdrop of imminent pogroms made for dense but compelling reading and the novel kept me company for the better part of a day, which happened to include a rather strenuous walk up The Hazards (a minor mountain formation on Coles Bay).

Much to my dismay, Yoshe Kalb was not The Brothers Ashkenazi. In fact it wasn't even a cousin Ashkenazi. Woe is me. Looking back, Yoshe Kalb could not have possibly lived up to the expectations I had built for it. After finishing Singer's larger masterpiece and resigning myself to never finding another word written by 'the better brother', I was so overjoyed at finding these two books that nothing short of a miracle could have caused me to read them objectively.

So now I am at a crossroads. Do I read The Family Carnovsky and risk having to eat the words I have long been spouting - including to The Age in my interview after winning the story award - that I. J. towers above his philandering sleazebag of a little brother? More tangentially, should I be as excited as I currently am at having just purchased Satantango, the new novel by Laszlo Krasznohorkai, author of the impossibly dense work of genius, The Melancholy of Resistance? Turns out Satantango's blurb reads almost exactly the same as the synopsis of a novel I had intended to write somewhere down the track, which makes me extremely excited to see it done well (and disappointed that I was beaten to it by someone I greatly admire).

Stuff it. I'm reading Thomas Pletzinger's Funeral For A Dog instead. At least I'm only basing my expectations on its wackily fun cover. And we all know that's the best way to judge any book!


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