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Success Stories

by Elisha Porat

episode.jpg

ISBN 965 909 030 7
Y & H, 2006
Translated from Hebrew by Alan Sacks

Open Book

Review by Nan Seal

Reading this soft-back book has been an exercise in contradictions. On the copyright page is the usual disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents etc." On the back cover the text description:

"This book is the story of Leopold Areih Friedman Lahola, whose fascinating exploits in Israel defy belief."

"Elisha Porat describes Lahola as ’the man of a thousand talents, a brilliant Jewish intellectual who immigrated…’ "

"Areih Lahola - Leopold Friedman - whose life forms the basis for the novel’s protagonist… in Israel, he filmed and produced several movies that left an indelible mark on the national cinema…."

The cover itself is an ironic photo of a one-legged man burdened by the weight of a backpack containing a prosthetic leg with foot. A stray lock of hair is visible as in the description in the book of Leopold Spitzer aka the above Lahola. The lock of hair in the photo is almost dreadlock in appearance. The small photo is superimposed on a larger newspaper photo of the same image and drawings of sprocket holes from a movie projector give the impression of conversion into yet another, third medium, cinema. Normally the cover might not be so important in the review of a book but in this one it foreshadows much within.

The story begins as a young man’s search for his deceased father’s missing translation of a play that was mysteriously cancelled before production. Soon it becomes an obsession with the man, Leopold Spitzer or Leopold Lahola, who was to be the director of the play. The narrator, the son of the translator, searches and requests many others to search. He interviews myriad people in his quest. Like the cover there is extensive repetition, not only of the facts of the life of the translator and Spitzer but in the events of the World War II holocaust. Much use of trinities occurs in the book, just as the three media on the cover hinted. There are three characters, two Jews and a drunken Polish Hemingway, who appear long enough to attract the reader’s attention and display the author’s talent. They vanish. The narrator’s quest turns up another trinity of the American playwright, Spitzer and the narrator’s "dad". Aside from the three letters in the latter name it was also interesting that use of the small ‘d’ might have been expected if referring to "my dad", "his dad", but it was always the personal form without possessive pronoun.

There is excellent writing. One example is the first paragraph of Chapter 6 that begins, "In a small grubby room at a cheap Parisian hotel…." Unfortunately any connection between that interesting paragraph and the equally interesting one that follows it escaped me. Reading interest was strongly hampered by the lack of hooks as a technique and by the unfamiliar language/expressions. In this latter matter dictionaries were not helpful. Perhaps this was a fault of the book’s translator.

There were copious psychological and sociological points in the book that went far beyond the usual plethora of European divisiveness. The thought even occurred to me that perhaps the book wasn’t intended for the general public to read. What a dreadful thought! If not, then what is a book’s purpose?