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The Yid


The Yid

Moscow, Russia, late February 1953. In a few short weeks, Joseph Stalin, tyrannical leader of the Soviet Union, will die at his dacha just outside Moscow. This is the setting for the opening pages of Paul Goldberg’s THE YID, a novel loosely based on the post-World War II experiences of the author, his friends and relatives.

Goldberg emigrated to America in 1973. Growing up in Stalin’s Russia, he had been subjected to the various rumors surrounding Jews that historically followed them from country to country. The worst of those focuses on the myth of using non-Jewish blood for religious rituals. THE YID is based in part on historical tales surrounding Stalin’s plan to purge Jews from the Soviet Union in 1953. Hoping to complete what Hitler started, Stalin accused a group of nine mostly Jewish doctors of plotting to poison the Soviet leadership. He planned to use these false charges as a justification to round up Soviet Jews. Before the trial of the alleged conspirators, Stalin died, and eventually this particular plot against the Jews died as well.

"There is a great deal of wisdom in this novel, which weaves wit and insight to provide readers information about the evil history of Soviet Russia. It’s the kind of book that needs to be read and then re-read."

But the partial factual history that Goldberg had learned as a Russian youth serves as the foundation for this raucous and madcap novel. THE YID is a what-if, or perhaps even a why-not, story about the triumph of good over evil. And how much of it is based upon truth and how much upon fable means little. Because the book is a wild ride.

The location of any novel pales in importance to its characters; their portrayal is what makes a book successful or tedious. THE YID introduces readers to a cast of characters whose quirkiness bordering on lunacy make them fascinating, memorable and reminiscent of the men and women portrayed in Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22. As the novel opens, Soviet officers are sent to the home of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an elderly actor who once worked in the state-run Jewish theater, to arrest him. They are unprepared for Levinson’s response, and it leads to their demise. But now the actor has to dispose of some dead bodies.

Fortunately, Levinson’s friend, Friedrich Robertovich Lewis, stops by the apartment for a visit. An expatriated American, Lewis is an African-American Communist who has lived in Russia for two decades. On the street, Russians think he is Paul Robeson. Soon Levinson and Lewis are joined by a Russian-Jewish doctor, Aleksandr Kogan, Levinson’s long-time friend (the two have been like brothers since World War I). Eventually the three men hatch a plot to kill Stalin. It will be a wild, exciting and simply crazy adventure.

Even in a madcap novel such as this, the traditional elements readers should expect are present. Car chases, Soviet guards and agents, mayhem and a body count are all here. In deference to Levinson, the actor, the book is structured in three acts, and Goldberg also manages to interject ample portions of Soviet history, including the revolution, culture and artists, as well as the insidious anti-Semitism that pervaded Russia, pre-and post-revolution, and continues to this day.

Yes, THE YID is historical fiction, and no, it never really happened. Or did it? There are just enough elements of truth in the wildness of these pages, along with our own experiences and dreams, to make us wish the story was true. There is a great deal of wisdom in this novel, which weaves wit and insight to provide readers information about the evil history of Soviet Russia. It’s the kind of book that needs to be read and then re-read.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on February 19, 2016

The Yid
by Paul Goldberg

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 125011795X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250117953