We Are All Immigrants in Zachary Lazar's Dazzling Novel, Gangster Meyer Lansky's Deportation from Israel and the Investigation into the Death of a Poet Converge

By Wolff, Carlo | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

We Are All Immigrants in Zachary Lazar's Dazzling Novel, Gangster Meyer Lansky's Deportation from Israel and the Investigation into the Death of a Poet Converge


Wolff, Carlo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


"I Pity the Poor Immigrant"

By Zachary Lazar

Little, Brown and Company ($25)

In "I Pity the Poor Immigrant," Zachary Lazar explores identity, the concept underlying his striking novel, through shifting narrators, shadowy characters and locales that embed specifics within ambiguous contexts. "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" is both murky and dazzling. It's a bold, fascinating experiment.

To read this novel is to learn to follow threads as maddening as they are illuminating. It engages, then pulls back; hypnotizes, then distracts. As nonlinear as the equally dark Dylan song it name- checks, Mr. Lazar's novel resonates long after you've read the last, determined page.

This tightly written book about the gangster Meyer Lansky, the writers David Bellen and Hannah Groff, the enigmatic go-between Gila Konig, and various problematic offspring visits unexpected places.

Being in those places can be uncomfortable but never for long. These places, both geographical and psychological, are thought- provoking; and even though the novel ends with a kind of closure, it leaves you wondering.

A typographically varied blend of fiction, fact and speculation, "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" pivots like a trackball on Lansky, who fled to Israel in 1970 to avoid U.S. tax evasion charges.

While Israel's "law of return" opens that country to any Jew, the exception is Jews with criminal records, and so Israel deported Lansky back to the United States two years later. Lansky was acquitted in 1974 and died in Miami Beach, capping a depressing spell Mr. Lazar details toward the end.

How open Israel is is part of the subtext as Groff burrows into the ostensible heart of the book, the death of the Israeli poet Bellen. Her probe leads her to ponder and avoid and investigate horror, and the religious fanaticism that bubbles under Israeli society. …

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