[Aaus-community-list] [aaus-list] Motyl Blog on Sentencing Tymoshenko
ajmotyl at andromeda.rutgers.edu
ajmotyl at andromeda.rutgers.edu
Fri Oct 21 02:15:27 EDT 2011
Cervena Barva Press Announces:
The Jew Who Was Ukrainian
How One Man's Rip-Roaring Romp through an Existential Wasteland
Ended in a Bungled Attempt to Bump off the Exceptionally Great
Leader of Mother Russia
Order online at > www.thelostbookshelf.com/m.html#Alexander Motyl <
The Jew Who Was Ukrainian is a blackly comedic, anti-historical, and
absurdist novel about a tortured Jewish-Ukrainian man who struggles vainly
to find meaning at the intersection of Hitlers Holocaust and Stalins
Alexander Motyl is the author of four novels, Whiskey Priest, Who Killed
Andrei Warhol, Flippancy, and The Jew Who Was Ukrainian. He teaches at
Rutgers University-Newark and lives in New York.
The Jew Who Was Ukrainian is a devilishly witty intellectual
farce in which historical meditation faces off with madcap
lampoons of past and present political rogues and assassins.
Motyl's wildly imaginative riff on a century of East European
history is a must read. The Moral of the Popcorn reigns!
-Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy
Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Russian Literature, Barnard College
Only Alexander Motyl could conjure up this delightful mixture
of ghoulish, existential madcappery with insightful, satirical
brilliance. This is a fantasy for the adventuresome,
geopolitical reader who's eager to have his mind bent and
Composer, New York City
This hilarious and poignant anti-historical novel is a
vertiginous journey through the Russian Revolution, Stalin's
purges, Nazi concentration camps, underground anarchist
gatherings, and the KGB network. A great master of
tragicomedy, Alexander Motyl shows with eminent irony that
twentieth-century history was funnier than Joyce imagined and
much more horrible than Orwell prefigured. His main character,
the laughable Volodymyr Frauenzimmer, works through his
excruciating guilt, split hence irreconcilable identity, and
obfuscating desire to settle accounts with history. Pondering
the question of whether to kill or not to kill the next
Russian dictator, Volodymyr transcends the border of the real
and enters a realm where infamous political terrorists and
their famous victims come together to discuss the
self-destructive power of hatred. This book is a cold shower
for anybody who still thinks you can change history and
passionate encouragement for all those confident that you can
do nothing about it.
Associate Professor in Jewish History, Northwestern University
Candide meets The Terminator-in the funhouse of history,
ethnic prejudice, ethics. and the dysfunctional family. An
intellectual thriller (camps and assassins included).
-George G. Grabowicz
Professor of Ukrainian Literature, Harvard University
Alexander Motyl is a master of seduction by the preposterous.
Writer, Edmonton, Canada
From: The American Spectator
A Romp Through History
By Michael Johnson on 7.18.11 @ 6:05AM
Alexander Motyl was clearly having great fun when he wrote his latest
book, The Jew Who Was Ukrainian, a comic novel with half-serious
historical underpinnings. It manages to amuse and challenge without losing
its headlong momentum into the realm of absurdist literature.
A political science professor at Rutgers University, Motyl may be the only
writer who has ever been able to find dark humor at the intersection of
Nazi brutality, Stalin's gulag and violent Ukrainian nationalism. The
story lurches from past to present and back, disregarding the constraints
of chronology, but somehow one doesn't mind. It's a journey like no other.
Protagonist Volodymyr Frauenzimmer was born of a rape at the end of World
War II; when his mother was a Ukrainian Auschwitz guard who hates
Jews and his father a Stalinist thug and Jew who hates Ukrainians. They
married but lived in separate rooms and rarely spoke to each other. Thus
the stage is set for Volodymyr's troubled childhood.
>From an early age, Volodymyr felt he had a preposterous name (Frauenzimmer
is an obsolete German term for "woman," now used only disparagingly) and a
preposterous past. He is losing his grip on reality when he finds solace
in the concept of hatred, however, and plots to kill the "exceptionally
great leader of Mother Russia," a dictator named Pitoon, whom he hates the
Here Motyl demonstrates his control of events by swerving from fantasy to
fact. He brings in real-life Jewish anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard​
who assassinated Ukrainian writer and nationalist leader Simon Petliura in
Paris in 1926, for advice. Next comes Bohdan Stashynsky, a Ukrainian KGB
hit man who killed two nationalist émigrés in Munich thirty years later.
They all end up in an animated discussion of history, guilt, criminality
and restitution. Pitoon is never killed.
At one point Volodymyr tries to talk Lenin out of taking his famous sealed
train to Petrograd, so that millions might live. Lenin dismisses the idea
and says, "I am who I am
I'll send you a postcard from Mother Russia."
Motyl manipulates his prose in ways that his previous novels, scholarly
works and op-ed writings never led us to expect. A taste of his style may
be experienced in this excerpt from his concluding 330-word Proustian
"Close to despair
his rip-roaring romp through an existential wasteland
on a relatively up-beat, if ultimately inconclusive, note that may, or may
not, be reflective of the condition of humanity or of the intractability
of history or of the inalterability of the past or of the irrelevance of
the present, which goes by faster than the blink of an eye, or to the
future, which doesn't exist until the moment it turns into the present,
and, like the blink of an eye, becomes immediately transformed into the
Motyl's comic side seems to be finding release after his long career in
turgid academic writings and heavyweight punditry. His credentials include
pieces in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,
American Spectator and Moscow Times. His grasp of the Ukrainian-Russian
past is sure and sweeping.
An undercurrent of scorn for professorial lingo seeps through the prose.
The hero searches for "epistemological solutions -- a move that some might
endorse, some might reject, and few would comprehend, especially outside
the withered groves of academe."
It was Motyl's gift for absurdist story-telling that impressed me most,
beginning with characters' names. A spy who ultimately helps corner
Volodymyr is named Katorga (the Czar's forced-labor camps), and others
carry historical baggage as Pitoon, Dostaevsky, Putschkin, Vlassov and
Deniquine. "Pitoon," he notes, rhymes with "spittoon." A Slovenian
culturologist is named Zigzag. Puns and jokes in four languages pepper the
Witty asides keep the reader on his toes: "To Volodymyr's surprise,
Dostaevsky's grip, unlike the plotting of his namesake's novels, was
firm." A favorite meeting place in modern Moscow was "Gulag Grill" where
the menu includes Lamb Lubyanka, Caviar à la Yezhov and the Martini
Even Voltaire makes an entrance in this allusion to Candide: "I am
learning wisdom, Volodymyr concluded. And from wisdom, he knew, there
springs goodness and hope and all that other great stuff."
Motyl's vivid descriptions give his tale a surreal dimension: Pitoon had a
"large, rounded forehead held taut by two slivers of sweet pink flesh, his
ears." His long climb to respectability in the German secret police tested
his determination. "He collected dissidents' soiled underpants, stored
them in airtight jars, and used them to direct canine noses in the
righteous struggle against ideological diversion and bourgeois
Pitoon's background revealed his narrow mind. When a woman thought she
noticed a slight accent in his German and wrongly guessed that he was from
Trieste, he immediately had her shot, "not because she was right but
because she was dead wrong, and he took his expressions seriously."
As Volodymyr gets to know the devious Katorga, he discovers she is a
Ukrainian Communist whose parents killed thousands for the cause. Katorga
justifies the carnage: "You cannot, you know, make borscht without peeling
Yet he is tortured by his past and dreams of destroying it. "Who can
destroy history?" he asks. "One may be able to make it or remake it, but
surely one cannot unmake it. The notion is preposterous
This book is preposterous, but in the good sense. The author has woven
characters from our past into an object lesson on the meaning of history
and why it's best to learn to deal with it, not change it. Volodymyr
wonders at the end whether his efforts were worth the trouble. Might he
have been wiser to have spent the time "more usefully and more fruitfully
and certainly more profitably, going into the restaurant business or
dressing well or buying tomatoes or something like that."
Michael Johnson spent 17 years at McGraw-Hill, including six years as a
news executive in New York. He now writes from Bordeaux in France.
Order online at >> www.thelostbookshelf.com/m.html#Alexander Motyl <<
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