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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

הכלב היהודי, אשר קרביץ

I picked this book up on a whim, during one of the end-of-year bookstore deals. For decades, Israel had only one major bookstore chain – Steimatzky – and all the rest were small mom & pop shops. Then, about a decade ago, Tsomet Sefarim grew as a competitor to Steimatzky and forced it to start reducing prices and offering special deals. Some pundits think the current situation, where the two chains compete fiercely against each other, although beneficial to customers, has hurt writers and devalued Jewish Dogbooks in general. People buy because it’s on sale, not because it’s a book they really want to read. I confess this is how I picked this book. It simply sat on the shelf where I could get 2 for 1, or perhaps was it 1 plus 2 or 2 plus 2. Who remembers? (Which reminds me of this – sorry, Hebrew only).

Yet sometimes a book you never heard about and you read just because you happen to have it, turns out to be a gem. This is the case with “The Jewish Dog”, by Asher Kravitz. Or perhaps I should call it “Der Yiddisher Hund”, which is the Yiddish subtitle of the book.

The Jewish dog is the life story of Koresh, a dog born in 1935 to a Jewish family in Germany. Koresh’s life parallels the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe – from the rise of Hitler and the deportation and extermination of the Jews – and ends with the hope of rebirth of the Jewish State in Israel (it dies in Israel in 1947, right after the UN decision to grant Jews a homeland). The dog, an intelligent, observing animal, goes through various phases and owners in life, and even gets different names. It is through its life experiences that it imparts the reader with insights and understandings about the world and human nature, with a cunning that would dwarf many humans I know.

It is not possible to write about the plot of this short book without ruining it for those who have not read it. In fact, the little blurb on the inside flap of the book has the word “spoiler” written on the top as a warning (even though it doesn’t reveal too much). So I will only point out that Kravitz’s style is simple yet thoughtful, peppered with verses from the Bible and with subtle hints about the “big picture”, which is not how one would normally see the world through a dog’s eyes. He manages to deal with the most horrific period in history – the Holocaust – in a manner that is light and occasionally even comic, yet it does not belittle the enormity of the period it describes. I highly recommend this book.

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