Robert and Jacob are two down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1950s. They’re planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, exiled from their native land and adrift in the hot, nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into the woman, who has enough trouble with her young son to keep her occupied all day. Her heart is open though, and the men are hoping her wallet is too....
Robert and Jacob are two down-and-out Polish con men living in Israel in the 1950s. They’re planning to run a scam on an American widow visiting the country. Robert, who masterminds the scheme, and Jacob who acts it out, are tough, desperate men, exiled from their native land and adrift in the hot, nasty underworld of Tel Aviv. Robert arranges for Jacob to run into the woman, who has enough trouble with her young son to keep her occupied all day. Her heart is open though, and the men are hoping her wallet is too. What follows is a story of love, deception, cruelty and shame, as Jacob pretends to fall in love with the American. But it’s not just Jacob who seems to be performing a role; nearly all the characters are actors in an ugly story, complete with parts for murder and suicide. Hlasko’s writing combines brutal realism with smoky, hardboiled dialogue, in a bleak world where violence is the norm and love is often only an act.
A glittering black comedy constitutes the English-language debut of a celebrated Polish writer. Hlasko 1934-1969 perfectly balances dark humor with pathos in this short, swift novel about two Polish exiles in Israel who execute an elaborate scheme: with the subtle help of Robert, his ``manager,'' the narrator, Jacob, woos vacationing American women. The suitor courts not with poetry or flowers, however, but with declarations of his own failure and refusals to enter a relationship ``I won't bring you luck. I'm a loser, you know. Nothing ever changes for men like me''. Robert, a Shakespeare devotee, coaches him: ``Smile like someone who's forced to lend his sports car to his mother-in-law . . . . Do you see your motivation now?'' But for all of the duo's clever plots and witty observations, they are not clowns; rather, they are tormented by history and memories of war, and by their own love of art as redemptive of the squalor they see around them. The weightiness of Hlasko's themes is counterpointed by minor characters who waver between the grotesque and the hilarious, such as the female target's horrid young son, resulting in a read that is equally entertaining and wrenching. Feb.
Two rough-and-tumble Polish grifters scam an American widow in 1950s Tel Aviv. An eclectic novel, this gut punch by the late Polish writer Hlasko (The Graveyard, 2013, etc.) is very much an artifact of its times, but it's a fascinating fusion of styles and rhythms from the Beat period and a moving play about the sacrifice of one's dignity. The protagonists are Robert and Jacob, two Polish refugees living day to day in the stark early days of the Jewish state. Robert is the brains of the duo, a ruthless manipulator who plans his scams like Shakespearean dramas; Jacob is the beautiful boy who is starting to question his place in this dark world. "The worst part is that I have to feel ashamed twice….Both before and after the act," Jacob says. "You've got no choice," Robert responds. "That's why you're so tragic. Oedipus plucked his eyes out so he wouldn't have to see the world. Think in similar terms." Their modus operandi is defrauding wealthy American women visiting the newly formed country, fueling their binges of drugs, alcohol, violence and vice. Had this been written in America at the same time, we would call it noir, in the vein of Jim Thompson with a touch of Kerouac's spontaneity. Somehow, Hlasko gives it a more barren, mournful tone, though, and a host of literary influences make this a must-read for scholars of the period. The author was a dissident who raged against conformity, and it's easy to see the influences of Chekhov and Dostoevsky at play, but the novel most closely resembles The Stranger in both tone and character. A moving introduction by British novelist and journalist Lesley Chamberlain lends insightful context to both this dark, spare novel and the novelist's own tragic arc. A cheerless morality play that is as piercing and compelling as its Western contemporaries.
Marek Hlasko, known as the Polish James Dean, made his literary debut in 1956 with a short story collection. Born in 1933, Hlasko was a representative of the first generation to come of age after World War II, and he was known for his brutal prose style and his unflinching eye toward his surroundings. In 1956, Hlasko went to France; while there, he fell out of favor with the Polish communist authorities, and was given a choice of returning home and renouncing some of his work, or staying abroad forever. He chose the latter, and spent the next decade living and writing in many countries, from France to West Germany to the United States to Israel. Hlasko died in 1969 of a fatal mixture of alcohol and sleeping pills in Wiesbaden, West Germany, preparing for another sojourn in Israel. Besides Killing the Second Dog, his translated works include the novels Eighth Day of the Week, All Backs Were Turned, Next Stop – Paradise,and The Graveyard, and a memoir, Beautiful Twentysomethings.