The Jewish Messiah
Jetblack triumph of folly
‘Because his grandfather had served the SS with genuine enthusiasm and an abiding belief in progress, the grandson also wanted to serve a movement with enthusiasm and belief in progress.’ This is the kick-off to a slapstick story with a grim twist. The movement that 16-year old Xavier Radek decides to serve is Zionism. More specifically, his goal is to console the Jews.
Initially, he thinks he has to accomplish this by writing the Great Yiddish Novel. Later on, he shifts his vision to politics. The first practical step towards Judaism is becoming a Jew among the Jewish. He joins the Jewish youth movement in his home town of Basel, visits the synagogue, becomes a regular at the home of the Rabbi’s large family, and develops a special friendship with Awromele, the eldest son. The big consolation has started, and the big suffering.
Xavier loses a testicle while being circumcised by a nearly blind circumciser. The testicle ends up in a jar with nitrous acid and is baptized King David. That moment marks the beginning of a roller-coaster ride, from Xavier Radek’s tumultuous progress as consoler of the Jewish people, with King David – the Messiah reincarnate – at his side, to the absurdities the writer has in store for us. In Israel, Radek develops into a formidable political leader at the level of he-whose-name-we-cannot-speak. Having retreated to his bunker after nuclear weapons have been put on engage, he comes to the final conclusion that the only consolation is total destruction.
In all its craziness, The Jewish Messiah is a jet-black novel. Grunberg writes about a hopeless war in the only sensible way; namely, through the triumph of folly. Nothing is sacred, nothing is spared, all so-called identities are mocked, whether Jewish, the sexual or masculine. Paedophiles, the autistic, anti-Semitics, rabbis, Arabs and Kierkegaard-supporters: whores and whoremongers, all of them. Xavier tells his beloved Awromele ‘Do not compete with mediocrity’ and ‘I want to baffle the people.’
In terms of tempo and intrigue, Grunberg has reverted in The Jewish Messiah to the more satirical style of his early novels, Blue Mondays and Silent Extras.
Considering the merciless view of the world he unfolds, one wonders whether this ‘Great Yiddish Novel’ is not his version of the Satanic Verses.