Kaloo­ki Nights

  • Review
By – March 30, 2012

In the open­ing of Howard Jacobson’s superb nov­el, Kaloo­ki Nights, the nar­ra­tor, Max Glick­man, reunites with his child­hood friend, Man­ny, who has com­mit­ted a ter­ri­ble crime. What fol­lows is not just a heart­break­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into Manny’s illic­it act, but also the sto­ry of their shared child­hood, grow­ing up in a British sub­urb in the 1940’s. Polit­i­cal debate, dis­cus­sions about Jew­ish­ness, and card-play­ing were at the cen­ter of Max’s fam­i­ly life, which includes a mem­o­rable cast of char­ac­ters com­ing in and out of the Glick­man home, while Man­ny grew up as an Ortho­dox Jew in a strict house­hold. The com­mon thread that con­nect­ed the boys had always been their love for Jew­ish his­to­ry. Years lat­er when they meet again, Man­ny and Max are still con­sumed by con­sid­er­a­tions of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, and Jacob­son con­tin­ues to explore how dif­fer­ent domes­tic upbring­ings helped to inform their futures.

As a car­toon­ist who dra­ma­tizes events from Jew­ish his­to­ry (his opus is enti­tled Five Thou­sand Years of Bit­ter­ness), Max employs a melan­cholic sense of humor in his work. To some extent, Jacob­son is sure­ly play­ing with his own rep­u­ta­tion as, first and fore­most, a com­ic nov­el­ist. Yet many of the oth­er char­ac­ters have rel­e­vant and philo­soph­i­cal things to say as well, and Jacob­son jux­ta­pos­es the comedic and the pro­found with ease. Chap­ter epigraphs include quotes from Rem­brandt to Grou­cho Marx, and Wittgen­stein to Jer­ry Siegel (co-cre­ator of Super­man). Although con­sis­tent­ly and bois­ter­ous­ly enter­tain­ing, this nov­el is not mere­ly a romp through a rec­ol­lect­ed past; through Max’s insights on car­toon­ing, and his inves­ti­ga­tion into Manny’s crime, ques­tions of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and the lega­cy of the Holo­caust persist.

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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