The Last Jew
, an ambitious and exhilarating novel, covers the entire modern history of the Jewish people. Kaniuk takes us from the scorched earth of mid-century Europe, to the arid plains of the Holy Land, to the urban bustle of the American diaspora, compressing the rise and fall of the Jews into the wildly original and enigmatic character of Ebenezer Schneerson. Kaniuk`s plot veers between the realistic and fantastical. Ebenezer calls himself "the last Jew," but in fact - ironically - he is both a "sabra" and the epitome of the Zionist ideal.
When he reaches adulthood, Ebenezer leaves Boaz, his young son, and travels to Europe in search of his Jewish roots and a father figure. During World War II, he is taken to a concentration camp, like many other Jews, and only survives by being court jester to the camp commander. He also has a phenomenal memory: he remembers the entire genealogy of the Jewish people and all of Yiddish poetry. In the camp, he does not find a father, but he does find a substitute son - Shmuel Lipker of the Zondercommando - who survives by extracting jewels from the orifices of dead inmates. When the war is over, Lipker puts on a freak show and regales audiences around Europe with Ebenezer`s uncanny memory. Eventually, however, their ways part. Lipker moves to America, where he becomes a famous movie producer. Ebenezer returns to Israel together with other Holocaust survivors.
In the meantime, the son he left behind has been coping with life in Israel in an equally bizarre way: after the 1948 War of Independence, he lies to bereaved parents and creates a fictitious memorial industry. When the "Jew" Ebenezer is finally reunited with his "Israeli" son after 40 years, the myth of the last Jew must be sealed in permanent ink. A German writer, whose father was a Nazi officer, comes to Israel to meet Ebenezer and makes him the central figure in his book, The Last Jew
I read The Last Jew
and was blown away. If the prophets of the Old Testament had read Joyce, Kafka, Marquez, Conrad and Gershom Scholem, listened to American jazz, seen Broadway musicals and listened to Lenny Bruce, they might have sounded something like Kaniuk.
Author Nicole Krauss, Time
A rich, demanding, life-affirming masterpiece… Not to be missed.
The Last Jew
is a river you immerse yourself in and in which you sometimes drown, a succession of powerful and sensitive visions, carried by lyrical yet relentlessly ironic prose.
Le Monde des livres
Kaniuk travels to the end of Jewish memory, in powerful prose that never lets you go.
Lyric-epic art of the highest caliber. The Last Jew has the shimmer of legend, of Greek tragedy, but Kaniuk lifts us up over the deep darkness of destruction into profound beauty.