the novels of Yoram Kaniuk

Last-jewMona Gainer-Salim at The Quarterly Conversation:

Kaniuk draws the reader into his fictional world as a participant, not just a spectator. The reader is forced to consider his own role in relation to the work, to reflect on his reactions and allegiances. This is true not only of The Last Jew, but also of much earlier works. Published in 1971, Adam Resurrected too centers on a Holocaust survivor, Adam Stein, who is now a patient at Mrs. Seizling’s Institute for Rehabilitation and Therapy, a pristine, state-of-the-art facility perched incongruously on a desolate chain of hills in the Israeli Negev desert. Contrary to expectations, Adam Resurrected is remarkable for its humor. Adam is by nature a trickster who starred in his own circus before war; now he uses his extraordinary intellect and flair for performance not only to give lectures for the other inhabitants, but to seduce nurses and generally to bring everyone at the Institute under his spell. Throughout the novel, he concocts a dizzying succession of schemes that veer hilariously between brilliance and absurdity. The chapter “Watermelon!” is dedicated entirely to one such escapade, in which Adam devises a plan to collect hundreds of watermelons from patients’ relatives by convincing them that an ailing fellow patient loves nothing more in life than these. However, through all his gags, it is impossible not to be disturbed by Adam’s ability to make us laugh, for Adam survived the camps by virtue of this very gift, playing a dog for the amusement of the camp director, Commandant Klein.

Each laugh Adam elicits in the reader is immediately followed by a suspicion that tragedy has been forced into the guise of comedy, and that we have been fooled into the wrong response.

more here.