Reviews for The lost shtetl

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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 © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A tiny Polish village the Nazis somehow missed remains disconnected from the modern worlduntil 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 Holocaustto 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 clbre. If Gross debut novel is not an unambiguously happy storynot only the Holocaust, but the random cruelty of fate and the general stupidity of humankind have fingers in the pieit 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 shes 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 anothers 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 newmazel tov, Mr. Gross. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Back