The Frozen Rabbi [NOOK Book]

Overview

Award-winning novelist Steve Stern’s exhilarating epic recounts the story of how a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town ends up in a basement freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century. What happens when an impressionable teenage boy inadvertently thaws out the ancient man and brings him back to life is nothing short of miraculous.
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The Frozen Rabbi

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Overview

Award-winning novelist Steve Stern’s exhilarating epic recounts the story of how a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town ends up in a basement freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century. What happens when an impressionable teenage boy inadvertently thaws out the ancient man and brings him back to life is nothing short of miraculous.
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Editorial Reviews

Jess Walter
Among the wonders awaiting the reader of Steve Stern's exuberant new novel, The Frozen Rabbi, is one of sheer logistics: How did he get all of this in here? The book's 370 pages are packed to bursting with epic adventure and hysterical comedy, with grim poignancy and pointed satire, as Stern repeatedly shifts time and tone to craft a wildly entertaining tale of the 20th-century Jewish experience and the paradox of tradition.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A family of long-suffering eastern European Jews protects a frozen rabbi from pogroms, revolution, and racketeers in this intermittently fabulous multigenerational saga. Stern (The Angel of Forgetfulness) uses two narrative threads, one beginning in 1999 when 15-year-old Bernie Karp discovers a body in his family's freezer, the other beginning in 1889 when the rabbi is frozen during a winter storm. With a ferocious grasp of history and Yiddish humor, Stern follows the family of misfits and geniuses as they flee the Lodz ghetto in Poland with their icy cargo, eventually making their way to New York, Palestine, and Memphis, where, in 1999, the rabbi reawakens. Unfortunately, the brilliant Chagall-like eye Stern turns toward the first half of the 20th century is bleary when it glances at the recent past, in which the story concerns itself more with Bernie's inability to lose his virginity and the newly thawed holy man's lecherous and tedious determination to enjoy 1999, which he considers to be heaven on earth. Stern ties both narratives together neatly, but the remarkable characters who cart the frozen rabbi through such vividly realized hells on earth deserve a bolder legacy than the banal one they get. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Yes, this is indeed a novel about a frozen rabbi who thaws in the late 20th century after being found by Bernie Karp, of Memphis, Tenn., in his parents' freezer. Stern (The Angel of Forgetfulness, 2005, etc.) uses his absurdist fantasy to explore issues of faith, secularism and redemption. Bernie, in particular, is in need of the latter, for he's a 15-year-old couch potato with no interest in or regard for his religious heritage. While the novel starts with the recovery of Rabbi Eliezer ben Zephyr from the deep freeze (Bernie's father explains to his bewildered son that "they handed [the rabbi] down from generation to generation"), Stern alternates chapters chronologically, beginning in 1889 when the rabbi, a noted holy man in Tsarist Russia, would meditate by a pond in order to get closer to God. One day a storm came, the water rose, the rabbi continued to meditate and winter eventually arrived, resulting in his being encased in ice. From that point we trace both the history of the Karp family's interaction with the frozen rabbi (in the early 20th century it helped that an earlier Karp had owned a large ice factory) and Bernie's spiritual transformation as a result of his interactions with the Chasidic sage. Bernie begins to lose weight, to have out-of-body experiences and to become intellectually invested in obscure Jewish mystical texts. Meanwhile, the rabbi becomes fascinated with and impressed by life around the year 2000: "Shopping bazaars it's got, and Dodge Barracudos and Gootchie bags made I think from the skin of Leviathan . . . but it ain't got a soul." The rabbi makes a radical attempt to ingest soul into this culture by establishing a "House of Enlightenment" in a strip mallin Memphis. As Bernie's fortunes begin to rise-he even acquires a "trailer trashy" girlfriend sympathetic to his needs-so do the rabbi's decline, resulting in a tragicomic conclusion. An ethnic novel with universal implications.
From the Publisher
“[A] wonderfully entertaining, inventive new novel that evokes Amy Bloom, Michael Chabon and Isaac Bashevis Singer . . . Laugh-out-loud funny, the sort of humor that takes you by surprise.” —NPR.org

“A funny, profound and virtuosic work . . . this fast-paced romp through history . . . is a rare enchantment.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“In the 25 years since [Stern] published his first book, younger Jewish writers have run with a similar shtick . . . In Jonathan Safran Foer, you see Stern’s fanciful English, in Nicole Krauss his magic realism, in Michael Chabon his updated golems and gun-toting shtarkers. But Stern was there first, and with The Frozen Rabbi it feels like he may be last too: this is a novel so rich, full, funny, dense and exhausting, it feels like there may be no more Steve Stern books left to write—by him, or anyone else.” —The Toronto Globe and Mail

“Among the wonders awaiting the reader of Steve Stern’s exuberant new novel . . . is one of sheer logistics: How did he get all of this in here? The book’s 370 pages are packed to bursting with epic adventure and hysterical comedy, with grim poignancy and pointed satire, as Stern repeatedly shifts time and tone to craft a wildly entertaining tale.” —The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616200671
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 6/14/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 594,999
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Steve Stern, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, is the author of several previous novels and novellas. He teaches at Skidmore College in upstate New York.
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Read an Excerpt

THE FROZEN RABBI

A NOVEL
By STEVE STERN

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Copyright © 2010 Steve Stern
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-619-0


Chapter One

1999.

Sometime during his restless fifteenth year, Bernie Karp discovered in his parents' food freezer-a white-enameled Kelvinator humming in its corner of the basement rumpus room-an old man frozen in a block of ice. He had been searching for a slab of meat, albeit not for the purpose of eating. Having recently sneaked his parents' copy of a famously scandalous novel of the sixties in which the adolescent hero has relations with a piece of liver, Bernie was moved to duplicate the feat. No stranger to touching himself, he hardly dared to dream of touching another, so inaccessible seemed the flesh of young girls. His only physical intimacy so far had been with his mother's Hoover, innumerable pairs of socks, and his big sister's orchid pink underpants retrieved from the dirty clothes hamper in the bathroom. Then he had come upon the novel he'd once heard his parents sheepishly refer to as the required reading of their youth. Not a reader, nor much of an active participant in his own uninquisitive life, Bernie had nevertheless browsed the more explicit passages of the book and so conceived the idea of defrosting a piece of liver.

Shoving aside rump roasts, Butterballs, and pork tenderloins in his quest, Bernie delved deeper among the frozen foods than he'd ever had occasion to search. That was when, having emptied and removed the wire trays, the boy encountered toward the bottom of the bin a greenish block of ice that stretched the entire length of the freezer. Scattering individually wrapped filets, tossing packages of French fries, niblets, and peas, Bernie was able to discern beneath the rippled surface of the ice the unmistakable shape of a man. It was an old man with a narrow, hawkish face, gouged cheeks, and a stringy yellow beard, his head wreathed in a hat like a lady's muff. His gaunt body was enveloped in a papery black garment that extended to the knees, below which his sticklike calves, crossed at the ankles, were sheathed in white stockings. His feet were shod in buckled bluchers that curled at the toes, his arms folded behind his head as if he were taking a luxurious nap.

Bernie's initial reaction was panic: He'd stumbled upon something he shouldn't have, and thought he ought abruptly to cover his tracks. He rolled the boulders of meat back onto the ice, slammed shut the lid of the deep freeze, and tromped upstairs to his room, where he crawled into bed and tried to still his galloping heart. A solitary, petulant kid, his chubby cheeks in their first flush of cystic acne, Bernie was unaccustomed to any kind of galloping. But the next day he returned to the basement to determine if he'd seen what he'd seen, and that night at dinner, ordinarily a somber affair during which his father related his business woes to an indifferent wife, Bernie muttered, "There's an old man in the meat freezer." He hadn't meant to say anything; if his parents were keeping some dirty secret in the basement, it was none of his business. So what had compelled him to blurt it out?

"Did you say something?" asked his father, unused to his son's breaking his sullen silence during meals. Bernie repeated his assertion, still barely audible.

Mr. Karp pushed his bottle-thick glasses back onto the hump of his nose and looked to his wife, who sat feathering her spoon in her consommé. "What's he trying to say?"

It took a moment for the fog to lift from her puffy face. "Maybe he found the thing."

"The thing." Mr. Karp's voice was level.

"You know, the white elephant."

"The wha-?" Mr. Karp grew quiet, his hands beginning to worry the loosened knot of his tie. "Oh, that."

"It's not an elephant," mumbled Bernie fretfully.

Mr. Karp cleared his throat. "That's an expression, white elephant, like a heirloom. Some people got taxidermied pets in the attic, we got a frozen rabbi in the basement. It's a family tradition."

Bernie retreated once again into silence, having been unaware that his family had any traditions. Then it was his sister Madeline's turn to be heard from. A voluptuous girl, exceedingly vain of her supernormal development, she condescended to inquire, "Like, um, what are you people talking about?"

Wary of his sister, who may have suspected him of stealing her underwear, Bernie slumped in his chair, avoiding her eyes. His father seemed to do likewise, for Madeline's looks could be oppressive in the matte gray Karp household; while Bernie's mother, still playing with her food, offered acerbically, "He's from your father's side of the family; they were always superstitious."

"He's a keepsake"-Mr. Karp's tone was defensive-"that they handed down from generation to generation." He squared his weak shoulders as he tried to summon some pride for an object whose existence he had clearly forgotten till now.

Annoyed, Madeline pushed her chair from the table, blew at a wisp of primrose hair that fell instantly back into her eyes, and flounced resolutely out of the dining room. Moments later a shriek was heard from downstairs, and Mr. Karp cringed. "He came with a book, the rabbi," he said, as if the literature conferred some official distinction. "Yetta, where's the book?"

"There was a book?"

Heaving a sigh, Mr. Karp readjusted his glasses and got purposefully to his feet, departing the room just as Madeleine emerged from the basement, her robust complexion gone deathly pale. "I, um, no longer want anything to do with this family?" she declared interrogatively.

"Here it is," announced Mr. Karp, squeezing past his busty daughter to reenter the dining room. "It was in the bottom drawer of the dresser, under my Masonic apron." Proprietor of a prosperous home-appliance showroom, Mr. Karp was a joiner, an affiliate of local chapters of the Masons, the Lions, and the Elks, his enrollment dating from a time when Jews were not always welcome in such organizations. His prominence and civic-mindedness, however, had earned him the status of an honorary gentile. He had even managed to secure his family a membership in an exclusive Memphis country club, which (with the exception of Madeline, whose endowments gave her entrée everywhere) the family seldom used.

Mr. Karp handed a limp ledger book of the type in which accounts are kept to his son, who began indifferently thumbing the pages. Instead of figures, the pages were covered in an indecipherable script that resembled clef signs and fishhooks.

"The book explains where the rabbi came from," continued Mr. Karp with authority. "My papa wrote it all down himself. Problem is, he wrote it in Yiddish." He may as well have said Martian. Then he added somewhat apologetically, "He's supposed to bring luck."

What kind of luck? Bernie wondered as he carried the ledger to his bedroom, a boneyard of aborted hobbies-the unpainted husks of model cars, the broken clear plastic trunk of a Visible Man, a PlayStation gathering dust. Though his only real enthusiasms to date had been a fondness for overeating and his late penchant for erotic fantasy, he idly perused the ledger's scribbled pages. When they refused to give up one jot of their meaning, he stuffed the book under his mattress alongside Madeline's panties and fell promptly into a dreamless sleep.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE FROZEN RABBI by STEVE STERN Copyright © 2010 by Steve Stern. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted February 1, 2011

    Almost over my head ...

    This is an interesting story of a rabbi who, after some years in deep freeze, comes to life and wreaks havoc on the lives of those he comes into contact with. The story is dark with bits of humor along the way. There's lots of yiddish references that, in my opinion, made the book hard to read. The characters are a little complicated and the story goes on a little longer than is necessary. It's an okay book if you've got a lot of time to translate yiddish to English!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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