The Leg­end of Cos­mo & the Archangel

Joseph Kauf­man
  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

With an expert­ly com­posed and far-rang­ing plot, this live­ly nov­el by Kauf­man — a for­mer stu­dent of Bernard Mala­mud — fol­lows a group of friends over a 30-year peri­od. Nar­rat­ed with a nat­ur­al mix of ease and care, humor, and eth­i­cal seri­ous­ness, Kauf­man, like the leg­endary Mala­mud, writes to evince a dis­tinct moral code in the nov­el­is­tic uni­verse he has cre­at­ed. We begin in 1968, where ardent ide­al­ism, youth­ful pranks, and pro­found friend­ship rule the day for five teenagers from Mass­a­chu­setts. The two young pro­tag­o­nists at the cen­ter of the group, Cos­mo Spez­za­fer­ro and Nick Pines (who will soon be anoint­ed with the nick­name of Archangel” after a par­tic­u­lar­ly dar­ing act of blind faith), have fair­ly oppos­ing per­son­al­i­ties. Cos­mo is impul­sive, high-spir­it­ed, and polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect; while Nick— who is mourn­ing the loss of his father at the novel’s out­set — reflects on life with a dole­ful and brood­ing affect. 

While attend­ing the con­cert at Wood­stock, Cos­mo, Nick, and the oth­er three in the gang — which includes Francine Frankie” Giftos, Nick’s future love inter­est — make a covenant to remain friends for­ev­er. How­ev­er, soon after Cos­mo gets wound­ed serv­ing in Viet­nam and a trag­ic acci­dent involv­ing Frankie dis­rupts Nick’s life at home, the loy­al­ty pact begins to tear apart. The nov­el goes on to fol­low the vivid­ly told adven­tures, set­backs, and high-wire acts of Cos­mo and Nick as they approach poten­tial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. For instance, Cos­mo becomes a well-known artist in Paris though his rise-to-fame is dubi­ous to say the least; and Nick’s trav­els to the Mid­dle East are com­pli­cat­ed by his quick friend­ship with a num­ber of Islam­ic rad­i­cals. The Leg­end of Cos­mo & the Archangel does not dis­ap­point in its sin­cere ren­der­ing of the trans­for­ma­tion of youth­ful ide­al­ism as we age. 

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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