... a sprawling 19th-century tale filled with violence, ancillary subplots and historical tidbits ... Through Fanny’s determined pursuit and Zizek’s military past, Iczkovits explores the richness, complexity and constant peril of Jewish life under the Russian Empire. Both characters are convincingly drawn, particularly in their occasional doubts and irrationality, and as their stories unfold we observe that although lives are often shaped by history and circumstance, character and resolve can resist and transcend the status quo ... Iczkovits repeatedly implies that our relative comfort is founded on indifference and injustice. But if he also believes in our moral obligation to act, this message is severely undercut by the plot of his novel, in which Fanny’s attempts to set things right are accompanied by an inordinate degree of collateral damage ... Fluently translated ... exhibits some trappings of the picaresque novel, including a broad cast of supporting characters whose misadventures steer us away from the main narrative for a bit too long. Likewise, the plot suffers from an overreliance on coincidence; there are too many chance encounters, flukes and a statistically improbable number of uneducated orphans who become influential officers ... Nevertheless, it’s a genuine pleasure to see all of the different strands of the story come together in the final act. If the Coen brothers ever ventured beyond the United States for their films, they would find ample material in this novel, which offers a familiar mix of dark humor and casual brutality — and an ultimately hopeful search for small comforts and a modicum of justice in an absurd and immoral world.
Yaniv Iczkovits’s brilliant, sweeping novel The Slaughterman’s Daughter is set in tsarist Russia during the late nineteenth century, but it feels highly relevant and resonant today. It is filled with exquisitely drawn characters often seeking some sort of redemption that remains out of reach ... Iczkovits...ultimately seems to recoil from ideas of Jewish insularity and exclusivity, preferring to focus on how Jews can live alongside others without all the fascination. It is a bold, provocative move on the part of the author.
... a rich and enchanting adventure novel, the kind of story telling that we all crave from time to time and that you so rarely see in a serious novel these days. Iczkovits has written a grand sweeping epic, a tale you can get lost in, even enraptured by, it has charm and wit and heft. For me The Slaughterman’s Daughter was an antidote to the blues inducing effect of a couple of cold dark rainy winter nights. This leviathan of a book is a tale that mixes folklore and imaginative flights of fancy with a insightful glimpse of the history of czarist Russia ... It is both flamboyant and exuberant, compassionate and emotionally complex, heart warming and poignant ... a story that refuses to adhere to natural boundaries, that bifurcates, meanders and merges at a confluence as the mood takes it. This is a matryoshka doll of a story, tales within tales within tales. An historical romp that plays fast and loose with fact but not with that essential emotional truth, a beguiling distortion of the past that brings the Jewish experience of the Russian empire into focus. Surprises abound, hardships are endured ... Big, brash and beautiful. A bravura translation from the Hebrew by Orr Scharf.
... dark and gothic and at times almost unbelievable while the author brings alive the grinding poverty, ignorance, and endemic anti-Semitism of the period. There is also humour, pathos and keenly observed characterisation. If you are looking for something different to read – taking you out of your reading comfort zone – this is for you. Recommended.
Beyond the humor and philosophy in The Slaughterman’s Daughter is a reckless woman gambling carelessly with men’s lives for the sake of her own validation ... This story should be treated as the fable it is — a celebration of one woman’s defiance of a people cowed into meekness and conformity by the czarist regime; of a country ... the setting is a rare one for historical fiction; while the years before the Russian Revolution are well-trodden ground, the experience of the Jewish people and their discrimination under the czarist regime is a uniquely impressive offering, particularly since that experience centers around a woman magnificently expert at ritual slaughter. The novel is at once a beautiful fable and a philosophical meditation on a people, their history, and their place in society ... At times, the story is bogged down by extraneous detail. While woven into its rich tapestry is an impressive cast of characters, their constantly shifting points of view slow down the pace, immediacy, and beauty of Fanny’s quest, hiding it beneath layers of meandering description and blocks of exposition, and dimming the bright, insistent light that is Fanny.
Israeli writer Yaniv Iczkovits’s debut The Slaughterman’s Daughter approaches history in a fabulist style reminiscent of Sholem Aleichem and his disciples ... The folktale tradition evoked in the storytelling has an estimable history, but perhaps even more old-fashioned is this novel’s length and leisurely tempo. Mr. Iczkovits slowly elaborates his scenes, indulging in every tangent and scrap of context, as though there weren’t countless forms of instant entertainment vying for the reader’s attention. (One interlude about Zizek’s exploits in the army is as long as a stand-alone novella.) I appreciated the pace, even if it sometimes made me antsy. Today it would be a quick drive to Minsk; once upon a time the trip was the stuff of epics.
The novel is full of fascinating historical detail. Iczkovits has done his research. But, best of all, is the writing. He is a born storyteller. The novel is packed with terrific characters ... Iczkovits moves between the present and the past creating a fascinating backstory for his characters. The plot races along. This is a book you will not want to put down. It’s full of energy, part farce, part adventure story. Iczkovits is clearly a talent to watch and The Slaughterman’s Daughter is the place to start.
Iczkovits draws on the conventions of black comedy, the picaresque, and the fable to tell the story of a quest packed with improbable characters and events ... translated beautifully from the Hebrew by Orr Scharf ... Novak’s trajectory and Fanny’s will, inevitably, collide, with unexpected results. Not every heroic act is rewarded, and tragedy is barely averted. And Iczkovits, like the reader, knows that there is no ultimate happy ending.
Occasionally a book comes along so fresh, strange, and original that it seems peerless, utterly unprecedented. This is one of those books. You might hear traces of Gogol or Isaac Babel in Iczkovits’ voice, but they’re only traces ... If occasionally Iczkovits’ superb humor slips too far into the slapstick, you’ll forgive him: He’s so compelling a storyteller he could be forgiven anything. Likewise, the passages that delve into Mende’s inner life are so textured and rich they can’t help but draw attention to the fact that Iczkovits never quite explicates Fanny’s own thoughts to an equal degree. But these are minor quibbles. Iczkovits is a superb talent, and this novel is a resounding success. As witty as it is wise, Iczkovits’ novel is a profoundly moving caper through the Russian empire.
... delightfully expansive ... Iczkovits elevates this cat-and-mouse story into a sweeping narrative with trips down side roads that reveal the riveting backstories of major and minor characters. His observations about human nature, family dynamics, and the interplay between religion and politics come across as wise but never didactic. Ever entertaining, Iczkovits’s lively, transportive picaresque takes readers on a memorable ride.