In this novel loosely based on deceased literary critic Harold Bloom's encounter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's father Benzion at Cornell University, the author of Book of Numbers narrates the tale of fictional Jewish historian Ruben Blum's experience at the dawn of the 1960s at Corbin College, where Benzion is interviewing for a professorship and lays waste to Blum's American complacencies.
The Netanyahus is Cohen’s sixth novel, his most conventional and his best to date. It is a tour de force: compact, laugh-out-loud funny, the best new novel I’ve read this year ... Among its other merits, then, The Netanyahus can claim the distinction of being probably the funniest novel ever written about contending historiographies ... Cohen writes with humour and wit...but comedy is a way of seeing things, as well as describing them ... Cohen’s lesson, in this determinedly comic novel, is that history happens as farce and tragedy simultaneously; the side you see depends, in part, on where you happen to be standing.
... a generational campus novel, an unyielding academic lecture, a rigorous meditation on Jewish identity, an exhaustive meditation on Jewish-American identity, a polemic on Zionism, a history lesson. It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever ... the chaos is just the ingenious layer on top of what this book also is, which is a brilliant examination of the Jew’s role in American society, always a tense place ... presents, in addition to a dynamic and compelling story, a thorough history of the quarrels of Zionism at its founding and an account of the unimaginable thing that happened when finally the Jews had a national homeland and a place to go, when, according to the Netanyahu in this book, Jews stopped being a mythological people who wandered the earth, who were chased around the earth, and began being a people who could record their own history ... This seems heavy, yes. And it is! But I promise that the book is both readable and, in spots, I absolutely screamed with laughter. I hesitate to say it’s accessible, only because of the amount of unnecessarily blue-chip words that appear throughout ... I lost some of the rhythm in a Sheol of internet vocabulary searches, though, to be clear, I do not cavil at these words, lest my own lesser vocabulary stick out like a carbuncle ... It was good to be able to hold all the dimensions of all the ways a Jew can be in this country and in the diaspora in my hands.
Mr. Cohen has fictionalized the episode to brilliant effect, producing a novel that is in part a seriocomic portrayal of postwar American domesticity, in part an ideological origin story, and most of all a parable dramatizing the intra-tribal disputes that divided Jews in the wake of the Holocaust ... Mr. Cohen proves himself not just America’s most perceptive and imaginative Jewish novelist, but one of its best novelists full stop.