Odessa, Odessa – by Barbara Artson – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Eastern Europe)

I’m afraid this one was a bit of a disappointment in my current search to find a work of historical fiction that brings to life the inherent drama of life during the pogroms (targeted attacks against Jews in Eastern Europe that spurred many millions to immigrate). Generously awarded three stars on Goodreads.

odessa2Taken as a whole, the book does give a broad overview of many aspects of the generic Jewish experience (including random and brutal persecution in Eastern Europe, intimidating passages across the sea to begin a new life, anti-Semitic discrimination in the US, UNDERemployment for some and new opportunities for others, and the inevitable loss of contact over generations with many relatives.) But I don’t think it’s a well-crafted book.

It’s a multigenerational saga, written by a retired psychoanalyst, and to me, it felt all over the place. The novel is built from a series of discrete chapters, showcasing different aspects of one family’s immigrant experience — from Czarist Russia, to New York and New Jersey, and in Israel. But there is no consistency of voice.

Some chapters relay a family member’s very personal experience. Others seem to contain more of a general narrative of Jewish history in the 20th century. In one place, there’s a random recipe thrown in, only one of many places where the dialog is so loaded down with information that it simply doesn’t ring true. Occasionally the author throws in someone’s complex psychoanalytical explanation to explain someone’s random dream or attitude. (These, in particular, seemed out of place to me. Even if this book WAS written by a psychoanalyst.)

In addition, the chapters do not follow a chronological order (1908-9, 1934, 1913-14, etc.), which I felt made it harder to form much of an emotional connection with the characters. Or to find any kind of story arch.

So you may have a sense of why this book felt disjointed. I guess my hunt goes on.

More about the author, Barbara Artson.