22 October 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For those of you unable to make any of the upcoming Benjamin Stein & Brian Zumhagen events (they’re in NY at the Deutsches Haus tomorrow night at 6:30, then at Columbia University Bookstore on Thursday at 6pm, and at 57th Street Bookstore in Chicago on Sunday, October 28th at 3pm), you can listen to them talk about the book on this Table podcast.

In the mid-1990s, East German novelist Benjamin Stein crossed paths with then-celebrated Holocaust memoirist Binjamin Wilkomirski at a literary conference, in a pleasant enough encounter. Soon after, Wilkomirski was exposed as a fraud who had invented his identity as a child Holocaust survivor; in fact he was Christian, born and raised in Switzerland.

In The Canvas, a novel just translated from German into English, Stein takes that encounter and builds from it a riveting story, told in two parts, about two fictional men who become intimately involved in the rapid rise and subsequent fall of a Wilkomirski-like character named Minsky. One protagonist is Amnon Zichroni, who is sent away from his ultra Orthodox Jerusalem community after he’s discovered reading secular literature. Zichroni remains religious but also pursues training as a psychotherapist and later aids Minsky in delving into his traumatic past. The other protagonist is Jan Wechsler, the writer who exposes Minsky only, it seems, to then flee from his own past in a similar fashion. These two stories meet, literally (and dramatically), at the center of the book—you can begin either with Zichroni’s life or with Weschler’s and must turn the book over to get from one to the other.

Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry speaks with Benjamin Stein about this unusual novel and about the ruptures in his own past, first when as a teen he decided to become a practicing Jew (having been raised in a nonreligious, staunchly Communist family) and later with the fall of the Berlin wall. We also hear from the book’s translator, Brian Zumhagen, whose voice and name may be familiar to New York City listeners from his day job as a news anchor at WNYC.

You can listen to the conversation on the Table website or via iTunes.

Dinner by César Aira
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .

Read More >

We're Not Here to Disappear
We're Not Here to Disappear by Olivia Rosenthal
Reviewed by Megan C. Ferguson

Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .

Read More >

The Queen's Caprice
The Queen's Caprice by Jean Echenoz
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .

Read More >

French Concession
French Concession by Xiao Bai
Reviewed by Emily Goedde

Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .

Read More >

Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >