The lost shtetl A novel

Max Gross

Book - 2020

"What if there was a town that Hitler missed? For over fifty years the tiny Jewish shtetl of Kreskol has existed virtually untouched and unchanged. Spared of the Holocaust and Cold War, Kreskol has enjoyed an isolated peace. But when a marriage dispute spirals out of control, Kreskol is suddenly rediscovered and brought into the 21st Century. Pesha is in a loveless, arranged marriage and summons the courage to escape Kreskol on foot. But when her husband goes after her, panicked town leaders (protecting secrets of their own) send a woefully unprepared young man out to bring them home. The orphaned outcast named Yankel-unlearned, functionally illiterate (his Yiddish is useless to the modern-day outside world), and tagged with an inconce...ivable origin story-soon finds himself in the care of a psych ward. But when the truth comes out about his origins, his name is splashed across the covers of Polish newspapers. Ready or not, Poland commits to returning Yankel to Kreskol, and reintegrating the town that time forgot. In the course of doing so, the devious origins of the town's disappearance come into the light. And what has become of those runaways? Kreskol, torn asunder by disagreement between those embracing change and those clinging to its old world ways, may soon be forced to make a choice or disappear altogether"--

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1st Floor FICTION/Gross Max Checked In
Historical fiction
New York, NY : HarperVia, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2020]
Main Author
Max Gross (author)
First edition
Physical Description
405 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Gross's lively and imaginative debut novel (after the memoir The Mensch Handbook) portrays a Jewish village in eastern Poland that's been isolated throughout the 20th century. The residents of Kreskol survive pogroms and the hateful superstitions of Christian neighbors ("For generations the priests had said that we poisoned drinking wells.... Or, alternatively, that we used the blood of Christian children in our matzahs, depending on which priest you consulted"), and remain unaware of modern technology and culture. Outside contact is limited to occasional visits from a Roma caravan until a recently divorced Kreskol woman runs away, her ex-husband follows, and baker's apprentice Yankel Lewinkopf is sent by the rabbi to find them. Traveling with the Roma, Yankel reaches the city of Smolskie, where his confusion and strange behavior land him in a mental ward. Doctors think Yankel may be delusional when he talks about his village, while Yankel has an equally hard time believing the doctors who tell him about the Holocaust. Finally, Yankel is helicoptered back home, accompanied by officials and reporters, and Kreskol must contend with its new fame and all the attendant complications. The narrator, a present-day villager, is well versed in Jewish traditions and human foibles, alternately reminiscent of early Isaac Bashevis Singer and a Catskills comedian. Gross's entertaining, sometimes disquieting tale delivers laugh-out-loud moments and deep insight on human foolishness, resilience, and faith. (Oct.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A tiny Polish village the Nazis somehow missed remains disconnected from the modern world--until an unhappy newlywed tears out of town. "It would have been intoxicating to anyone who had the least amount of interest in World War II and the Holocaust…to delve into an unambiguously happy [story]." So proclaims a scholar writing about Kreskol, a village in Poland, after it emerges from nearly a century of total isolation and anonymity to become a national cause célèbre. If Gross' debut novel is not an unambiguously happy story--not only the Holocaust, but the random cruelty of fate and the general stupidity of humankind have fingers in the pie--it is great fun, packed with warmth, humor, and delightful Yiddish expressions. (Only to be expected from the author of the memoir From Schlub to Stud: How To Embrace Your Inner Mensch and Conquer the Big City, 2008.) Reaching into the storytelling tradition that stretches from Sholem Aleichem to Isaac Bashevis Singer to Michael Chabon, the author spins an ingenious yarn about the struggle between past and present. The narrator is a nameless townsperson from Kreskol, which as the novel opens seems to be from another era, a sweet Jewish village with matchmakers and farmers and open-air markets, several synagogues and plenty of gossip. But one day a spirited beauty named Pesha Lindauer decides she cannot put up with the putz she's recently married for one more minute. "This was not exactly a surprise to most of the people in our town," says the narrator, who often uses the collective "we" in a way reminiscent of Tova Mirvis' The Ladies Auxiliary. Pesha is the first person to leave Kreskol in a very long time, and eventually the town elders send the mamzer (technically, bastard) Yankel Lewinkopf after her. Yankel is an unlikely but endearing hero, and his adventures in the world of smartphones and underarm deodorant unfold in unexpected, entertaining, and sometimes very sad ways. "What was the point of freedom in a town like Kreskol, where everyone knows one another's business and his future was more or less written already?" This seemingly light fable may leave you meditating on serious questions. Imaginative and philosophical, funny and sad, old and new--mazel tov, Mr. Gross. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.