The Jew­ish Messiah

Arnon Grun­berg; Sam Gar­rett, trans.
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012
Xavier Radek, the Swiss pro­tag­o­nist of this far­ci­cal com­ing-of-age nov­el, believes it is his call­ing to help the Jew­ish peo­ple. The descen­dant of an SS mem­ber, Xavier decides to con­vert to Judaism and soon befriends Awromele, the hand­some son of a local rab­bi, whose great ambi­tion is to trans­late Mein Kampf into Yid­dish. Awromele puts Xavier in touch with an elder­ly mohel who agrees to cir­cum­cise Xavier, and after the oper­a­tion goes hay­wire, Xavier’s life takes a bizarre and grotesque turn. The two boys remain close friends through a host of addi­tion­al strug­gles, most notably Xavier’s father’s sui­cide and Awromele’s strug­gles to assim­i­late, and even­tu­al­ly become lovers and move to Ams­ter­dam. Ahost of zany and bit­ter­sweet adven­tures ensue, and as adults they wind up mov­ing to Israel, where Xavier, in keep­ing with his life­long aspi­ra­tions of eas­ing Jew­ish suf­fer­ing, becomes prime min­is­ter. While the nov­el plays with his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal alle­go­ry, it refrains from easy sym­bol­ism or didac­ti­cism. Instead, Grunberg’s fic­tion­al uni­verse is beguil­ing­ly sur­re­al and whol­ly alive. The nov­el ends with a mem­o­rable tragi­com­ic flour­ish as Xavier and his mes­sian­ic com­plex are final­ly put to the ulti­mate test.
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.

Discussion Questions