Paul Goldberg’s debut novel takes place over several long Russian winter days spanning February 24 to March 5, 1953, set against the frigid milieu of Joseph Stalin’s “Final Solution” plans to purge all the Jews from Russia.
Three government agents start their nightly routine of arrests in Moscow. They knock on the door of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, a marginal Yiddish actor from a closed Yiddish State Theater company, unexpectedly setting off a Kafkaesque path of no return to the bleak countryside accompanied by a bizarre cast of friends and acquaintances.
The retinue includes Frederich Lewis, a black American who left life under racist oppression in Nebraska to work in the remote Communist steel mills of the USSR; Aleksandr Kogan, a disillusioned surgeon who served as a machine gunner from Levinson’s old Red Army unit, now threatened by wild antisemitic rumors circulating about a “Jewish doctors’ plot” of killing high-ranking Soviet officers and officials with poison-laced syringes; and Kima Petrova, a beautiful girl with nothing but revenge on her mind. Together they devise a simple plan: kill the mad King Stalin before his “Final Solution” operation is realized.
Filled with large literary doses of Shakespeare, Gogol, and Sophocles, Goldberg’s historical novel boasts flashes of brilliance, including a Passover play based on the idea “that God did not stop Abraham’s hand, and human sacrifice flourished,” staged at Stalin’s private dacha. The Yid is a well-written, darkly comedic novel of historical fiction, with memorable characters and a delectable touch of the absurd.