Thursday, January 31, 2019
Book Review: 'The Heritage: A Jewish Historical Fiction Novel' by Jack Michonik
‘Everything in life has its appointed day. There is no escape.’
Israeli author Jack Michonik is a well-traveled writer. Born in Switzerland, of Russian parents and raised in Bogota, Colombia, he then attended high school in New York and graduated in Business Administration from the University of Grenoble, France. He then lived in Cali, Colombia for 20 years before permanently settling in Tel Aviv. His many books are written in Spanish and are translated into English and French.
In many ways Jack’s book is enhanced by his living in Colombia – a first hand sense of place and climate and philosophy and history. The book was originally written in Spanish as LA DESCENDENCIA in 2003 and translated into English as THE HERITAGE in 2014. One aspect of this writing that makes it particularly atmospheric is Jack’s incorporation of Hebrew phrases in the relating of the story of members of the Jewish diaspora from the horrors of the Holocaust who fled to South America. It works very well indeed.
The story takes place in 1961 and Jack’s synopsis clarifies the direction of this impressive novel – ‘In the wake of events in the 1900’s, thousands of Jewish families left Europe in search of a better life in the New World. Most reached the shores of the United States, but some, like Leib Edri and Chaim Lubinsky, landed in South America, "where the subtle scent of this mingling of violence, laziness, revelry and gaiety hovers in the air." Leib and Chaim arrive in the town of Lárida, where there are hardly any Jews, and set up shop. They work hard, change their names to León and Jaime, take a leading role in the incipient Jewish community and create a new life for themselves while prospering, marrying and having children. Surrounded by a Christian world and the culture of Latin America, the sons of the immigrants are unable to withstand the forces of assimilation that sweep them towards their disintegration as Jews. The scope of the book goes beyond the story of the characters. Transcending the plot is the story of the birth of a Jewish community in a South American town. Lárida is "a bustling city of more than a million inhabitants" that the fact-checking reader won't find in the map, but yet, a city whose Jewish community sprang up in much the same way as those of Caracas, Lima or Bogotá.’
Though there are many novels composed in response to the Holocaust and the consequent flight of the Jews for safety, for life in countries far from the core of anti-Semitism, few relate that the birth of Jewish communities as well as THE HERITAGE does. As Jack state, ‘they just wanted a better life and fought as hard as they could to get ahead in the new world. Not only is this an intense story that captures the reader’s imagination, it is also a very fine reminder of a period in time and the subsequent effect on the live of many. Highly recommended.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.