Monkey Business

September 12, 2010 at 08:21 Leave a comment

I’ve just returned from Sweden, where I stocked up on books published since my last visit, and now during Rosh Hashanah I started to work on the stack of Swedish literature whenever I had a moment over between the davening, eating and shnatzing.

One of the books I read was Stephan Mendel-Enk’s Tre Apor (“Three Monkeys”). The story is about a Jewish boy growing up in Gothenburg in the 1980s, and what happens when his mother leaves his father for her non-Jewish boss.

Thematically, the book is more or less a version of A Serious Man, but related from the perspective of the son, but the Swedish 1980s setting creates a few unique literary gems. Mendel-Enk’s description of the cut-out Per Ahlmark columns on the fridge, his War-traumatized grandfather who divides the whole world into Jews and antisemites and the sporadic upholding of religious customs that no-one seems to understand anymore is priceless.

Another priceless scene is when the whole family is gathered in front of the television in 1979 to watch the Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Israel. Mendel-Enk describes how everyone where both immensely proud and deeply nervous that the idealized Jewish state would make a fool of itself – and of them – on live television before the whole world. Maybe, they asked themselves, she isn’t ready yet and should still keep to easier chores, such as winning wars in the desert, and not be entrusted with truly important tasks, like entertainment.

Tre Apor is a short novel. Maybe even a little too short, to my taste. It wouldn’t have hurt to add a little more meat to the bones, flesh out the characters and – to stretch a metaphor beyond breaking point – to give the reader a little more to chew on.

Or maybe that’s just me being greedy.

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Entry filed under: Arts.

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