Crossing the Hudson


Gustav Rubin, a fur dealer in Vienna, flies to New York to spend the summer with his wife and two young children in a lake house north of the city. When he arrives late at JFK, he is met by his opinionated, unrelenting mother, Rosa. They rent a car and set out for Lake Gilead. But Gustav loses his way, and son and mother end up on the wrong side of the river. Trying to find the right route north, they become trapped on the Tappan Zee Bridge in the traffic jam of all traffic jams– a truck transporting toxic ...

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Crossing the Hudson

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Gustav Rubin, a fur dealer in Vienna, flies to New York to spend the summer with his wife and two young children in a lake house north of the city. When he arrives late at JFK, he is met by his opinionated, unrelenting mother, Rosa. They rent a car and set out for Lake Gilead. But Gustav loses his way, and son and mother end up on the wrong side of the river. Trying to find the right route north, they become trapped on the Tappan Zee Bridge in the traffic jam of all traffic jams– a truck transporting toxic chemicals has turned over–and Gustav and Mother remain gridlocked high above the Hudson River. Gustav begins to think of his beloved father, a renowned intellectual, now eleven months dead. Then, in a surprising, highly original twist worthy of Kafka, both Gustav and Mother see the body–"the colossal, golem-like fatherbody"
– of Ludwig David Rubin floating naked in the waters below.

Jungk gives a profound meditation on a Jewish family and its past, especially the lasting distorting effects on a son of a famous, vital father and a clinging, overwhelming mother, and of the differences between the generation of European intellectual refugees who arrived in the United States during the Second World War and the children of that generation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
ForeWord Magazine

“The details in Crossing the Hudson [give] this novel about the troubled generations of a post-War Jewish family a verisimilitude that draws readers in...Jungk’s telling of the story is irresistible.”

The Jewish Week

“[The characters] are suspended between Europe and America, a Jewish family’s past and present, in this novel that features a Kafka-like event on the Tappan Zee Bridge.”

The National Jewish Post and Opinion

“Brilliantly blending reality and fantasy, Peter Stephan Jungk has written an intriguing novel...set forth with great wit and skill."

Kirkus Reviews

“A stirring meditation on family, faith and intellect… Jungk’s beautiful, uncanny work breaks new ground in stories about fathers and sons.”

Publishers Weekly

“Pleasantly bizarre… [a]n unusual and inventive work…refreshingly strange...”

Times Literary Supplement

"Modern Jewish fiction has generally preferred to depict the Oedipal struggle. A strange, durable love – not Roth’s sublimated hatred, not Kafka’s fear – reigns in Crossing the Hudson...[a] journey taken far too infrequently by Jungk’s literary predecessors."

The Star Tribune

“Jungk’s beautiful, surpassingly strange novel deals with emotions and faith…a treatment of father-son relationships that’s both deeply intimate and deeply intellectual.”

Salonica World Lit

"[A] great work in translation."

Publishers Weekly

A Viennese fur dealer confronts his life's failures in this pleasantly bizarre novel from the author of The Perfect American. Gustav Rubin, a historian turned fur dealer, has returned from Europe to Manhattan to fetch his mother for a vacation at his lake house, but the trip goes awry at every turn, culminating in an epic traffic jam on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Lending a note of urgency is Gustav's need to arrive at his lake house by dusk; as an Orthodox Jew (a faith his mother neither shares nor much respects), he must cease driving before the Sabbath begins. Mother and son bicker and reminisce about Ludwig Rubin, the family's recently deceased patriarch, until Ludwig's gigantic body appears beneath the bridge, lolling in the Hudson River. Marveling at his father's enormous presence as he and his mother hammer out the many disappointments of his life, Gustav becomes increasingly aware of his parents' power over his life. An unusual and inventive work, Jungk's refreshingly strange images give some air to the otherwise claustrophobic narrative confines. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

As if getting caught in a huge traffic jam on the Tappan Zee Bridge with his overbearing mother weren't enough, Gustav Rubin sees his dead father, Ludwig, floating on the surface of the Hudson River. Only-child Gustav grew up in the shadow of his father, a world-famous lecturer, while his mother maintained a continual running commentary, so that he was trapped between two dominating personalities. For Gustav, seeing his father's body sparks an inner monolog about his growing sense of having made wrong choices in his career, marriage, and attitude. As he walks along the bridge, with his father's huge image moving below, his mother nagging, and his wife calling on his cell phone, he realizes that it is time to break free of domination by others. Jungk (Tigor) tackles themes of generational differences, Jewish identity, and the resolution of childhood development as crossing the bridge frees Gustav from his own jammed-up life. A solid purchase for large collections.
—Josh Cohen

Kirkus Reviews
A traffic jam prompts a stirring meditation on family, faith and intellect. Dour Viennese furrier Gustav is en route by car to his house outside New York, where his wife and children are waiting for him. The pressure's on to arrive before sunset; he's recently converted to Orthodox Judaism, much to the frustration of his mother Rosa. Much to Gustav's frustration, Rosa is with him as he drives, lecturing him about everything from his choice of wife to his choice of rental car. Worse, they'll be stuck together for a while, as a chemical spill on the Tappan Zee Bridge brings traffic to a halt. Jungk (Tigor, 2004, etc.) slows down the narrative at that moment, suggesting a Nicholson Baker-esque study of the minutiae of living with gridlock. But when Gustav steps out of the car to look at the Hudson River, an unusual thing happens: He sees the enormous naked body of his late father, Ludwig, lying across the river's banks. It's patently absurd, but Jungk masterfully captures the confusion the image creates in Gustav's and Rosa's minds, as well as the vaguely unsettled feeling it arouses in others on the bridge. (They don't see the "fatherbody" but sense something odd about the river.) Ludwig was a famous scientist-importantly, his major text was titled Fusion-and as Gustav walks across the bridge he ponders the connection between his father's body and his life. The sight of Ludwig's penis recalls memories of his infidelities; his stomach evokes his intestinal illnesses; and, finally, his mind evokes his intellectual force. Jungk shows just how tightly knit the relationship was and is between Gustav and his parents, and though the tone is muted throughout, the overall feeling is one ofuplift, affirmation of the deep bonds that connect the family. The presence of his father's body on the river, however strange, doesn't confuse and complicate Gustav's life-it clarifies it. Jungk's beautiful, uncanny work breaks new ground in stories about fathers and sons.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512753
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stephan Jungk

Peter Stephan Jungk was born in Los Angeles, raised in several European cities, and now lives in Paris. A former screenwriting fellow of the American Film Institute, he is the author of eight books, including the acclaimed biography Franz Werfel: A Life from Prague to Hollywood (1990) and the novels Tigor (Handsel Books, 2004), a finalist for the British Foreign Book Award, and The Perfect American (Handsel Books, 2004), a fictional biography of Walt Disney's last months, which had its premiere as an opera by Philip Glass at Madrid's Teatro Real in January 2013.

David Dollenmayer
David Dollenmayer is Professor of German at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Berlin Novels of Alred Doblin. He is the recipient of the 2008 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize. He lives in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
Also by this translator: The Road to Rescue, The King of Corsica, House of Childhood

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Read an Excerpt

“So, I’ll be there by four, four-thirty at the latest. When does Shabbat begin? When? And lighting the candles? 8:03? All right, 8:03. Wait a sec, Mama wants to talk to you.” He handed her the phone.

“You and your Shabbat. My son an Orthodox Jew, I still can’t believe it. Sorry, what? I already told him he shouldn’t use the phone while he’s driving. What? He looks awful. Like someone spit him out. And he rented the most ghastly car you can imagine. A pimp’s car. No, I won’t fight with him. How are the children? Amadée’s swimming? And no one’s lifeguarding him? What’s Julia up to? You’re down by the dock? Well that’s good.”

When the call was over, she looked sideways at her son, reproachfully. “The cell phone stays with me from now on. You’re completely wound up! And what’s ‘lighting the candles’ supposed to mean?”

“You were already at our house once for that, Mother. It’s when we light the candles for Shabbat, the moment that separates the previous week from the day of rest. Madeleine lights the candles, then she spreads out her arms above them and draws them in three times in a circular motion to show that she embraces the sanctity of the Shabbat. Then she puts her hands over her eyes and says the blessing. Do you remember now?”

“My son an Orthodox Jew! Unfathomable . . .”

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Reading Group Guide

1. Ludwig Rubin says that he, his wife, and their son Gustav are “Siamese triplets, attached at the head and the genitals. And behind us, the dead.” (Page 98) Ludwig says they are different from others because they have no other family and both he and his wife feel embarrassed and ashamed to be alive, after much of their family died during World War II. Do you believe this justifies the smothering nature of their relationship?

2. Water repeats in Crossing the Hudson - the family baths, the beloved game played by father and son of throwing something in a stream and watching its journey. How does the bizarre fatherbody floating in the Hudson fit into this motif? Does it make psychological sense?

3. Gustav’s mother seems to take a sadistic satisfaction in putting down her son in every way, pretending not to recognize him as her son once when he was a child and giggling as she lists what she sees as his unattractive physical qualities. Do you think Gustav’s intense attachment to such a mother is masochistic? Do you think they love each other? What is the nature of their love?

4. The theme of the bridge goes throughout Crossing the Hudson, from the grandfather’s fear of crossing bridges, to Gustav’s love of bridges and his role as a bridge between his parents, the improvised lecture on the history of the bridges, the pilot’s feelings about the Tappan Zee. What are the varied meanings of the bridge in Crossing the Hudson?

5. Jewish guilt has famously been seen in a positive way as a strong sense of responsibility for others and the world and in a negative, if humorous way, as neurotic self-absorption. How do you think guilt of this kind and others plays out in the Rubin family?

6. How do you perceive Gustav’s choice to become an orthodox Jew? What might have been his motivations?

7. How do the eccentric characters they meet on the bridge provide comic relief, and serve as a counterpoint to Gustav’s mother?

8. How do Ludwig and his wife’s descriptions of their marriage differ? Gustav’s mother insists that no one had a marriage like theirs, certainly not Gustav and his wife. Do you think Gustav had a chance to have a successful marriage? Do you think he played a role in keeping his parents together?

9. Ludwig is horrified at his son’s choice of commerce over academic life, and lists what he considers to be the terrible professional choices of the children of numerous famous intellectual European émigrés. Ludwig states, “No one knows about this, but Jean Amery’s illegitimate daughter became a pedicurist. No wonder he committed suicide.” (Page 36) What do you think about the abyss in values between these generations?

10. Gustav says, “Whoever hasn’t slugged it out with his father, whoever has failed to defend himself will feel weak, incomplete, unmanly the rest of his life.” (Page 140) Do you think a son must rebel against his father to become a man?

11. Why is the airline pilot so extremely captivating to both Gustav and his usually very critical mother? How do she and her mother contrast to the two of them?

12. Do you think Gustav will be able to leave his father (and his mother) psychologically and save his life? How does the last image of his breaking away from his father strike you? What do you make of the last line of the book?

13. Do you find Crossing the Hudson comic? Which aspects of it were particularly amusing? What other tones make up the novel?

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