The Briss

Michael Trege­bov
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

The Briss opens with Ted­dy Ostrove, a twen­ty-some­thing Jew from Win­nipeg call­ing his par­ents from Ramal­lah to tell them that he’s vol­un­teered as a human shield for the Pales­tin­ian cause, and that he has fall­en in love with, impreg­nat­ed, and pro­posed to a Pales­tin­ian woman he met on his Birthright-Israel-like trip. Such a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly volatile open­ing ought to have launched a book where out­ra­geous humor only aug­ments some degree of emo­tion­al and polit­i­cal sub­stance, but The Briss is so ludi­crous­ly lop­sided against Israel and takes such a uni­form­ly scathing atti­tude toward its very vul­gar one-dimen­sion­al Jew­ish char­ac­ters, that it is hard to empathize with any of them despite their respec­tive dis­tress, or to derive any insight into the sit­u­a­tion, what­ev­er side of the polit­i­cal divide you’re on. It may well make you laugh uncom­fort­ably though. 

Teddy’s par­ents are crass, inept social climbers whose great­est con­cern is what the super­fi­cial and super-cru­el sub­ur­ban Jews they aspire to hob­nob with will think of them, and Teddy’s divorced sis­ter has a rep­u­ta­tion for sleep­ing around with mar­ried men. The Ostroves’ fee­ble and igno­rant pro-Israel plat­i­tudes eas­i­ly get best­ed by Teddy’s only com­par­a­tive­ly artic­u­late new-found pro-Pales­tin­ian rad­i­cal­ism. Teddy’s latent lib­er­al­ism was trig­gered on the trip by his hav­ing met ugly Israelis” (Amer­i­can set­tlers) and a charis­mat­ic alpha-male sabra sol­dier angry about the occu­pa­tion” who schooled him in the osten­si­ble facts about the iniq­ui­ties the Pales­tini­ans suf­fer, and of course, by falling for his Pales­tin­ian princess at first sight. Teddy’s par­ents had pushed him to go to Israel and change his life, because they were humil­i­at­ed first by his drop­ping out of med­ical school to become a nurse, and then by his hav­ing an affair with a les­bian rabbi’s wife. 

Tregebov’s strong dia­logue flows fast and fun­ny, and the book reads more like a play than a nov­el, but the effect is glib and nasty from the start. The book, though stri­dent and com­plete­ly unbal­anced, falls short of being pro­pa­gan­da, because skew­er­ing the igno­rance of dias­po­ra Jews almost seems more impor­tant to the author (who lives in Barcelona) than bash­ing Israel or boost­ing the Pales­tin­ian cause. Mrs. Ostrove tells Ted­dy repeat­ed­ly, You’re tak­ing my neshome (soul) out,” and that’s exact­ly how read­ing this book felt.

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