A Heav­en of Others

  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
The ambi­tion and word-play that fuel Joshua Cohens Witz, an 800 page book about the last Jew in the world pub­lished in 2010 by Dalkey Archive Press, are on dis­play in this enjoy­able novel­la, writ­ten in 2004 when Cohen was 23 years old. The ten-year-old nar­ra­tor, Jonathan, arrives in heav­en after being killed by a child his own age in a ter­ror­ist attack. In a rush of mem­o­ries, euphemisms, neol­o­gisms, and philo­soph­i­cal zingers, he com­pares heav­en to his mor­tal life — touch­ing on the bor­ders in heav­en, matur­ing in the after­life, and the 18 moth­ers he gets upon arrival. Cohen is sure to nev­er pair words that have been paired before, cre­at­ing a lush drone of twist­ed gram­mar and poet­ic obser­va­tions.

As in Witz, there are ref­er­ences to Jew­ish law and tra­di­tion, but this sto­ry is set in Jerusalem, where Jonathan recalls a life both polit­i­cal­ly tense and rich with atmos­phere and cul­ture passed down from his Aba (father) and the Queen, his moth­er. Respect­ful to both lives lost from either side of the bor­der, Cohen projects a love for Jew­ish tra­di­tion and for life. He amal­ga­mates many sources of wis­dom includ­ing Jew­ish and Islam­ic teach­ings with unapolo­getic lucid­i­ty. Remem­ber that the dead can­not sac­ri­fice. Nev­er again. And that it is not for the liv­ing to judge any of the sac­ri­fices that oth­ers are bound to make to keep liv­ing.” Amaz­ing­ly, despite Cohen’s uncon­ven­tion­al style, A Heav­en of Oth­ers nev­er intim­i­dates, and is teem­ing with so much mean­ing and beau­ty any read­er would want to read it twice.

Read Joshua Cohen’s Posts on The Vis­it­ing Scribe

Writ­ing a Book Like Coney Island

The Biggest Ceme­tery in the World

A Para­ble for Writing
Sam White lives in Brook­lyn and is from San Fran­cis­co and Bak­ers­field, CA.

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