Plague of Dreamers
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Plague of Dreamers

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Steve Stern, "an astonishing writer . . . who has secured himself a seat in the distinguished history of Jewish-American letters" (The Philadelphia Inquirer), returns with lyrically comic tales about the Pinch, a backwater Jewish community in Memphis, Tennessee, whose misbegotten citizens refer to themselves as "the lost tribe." Stern's dreamers are plagued by history, lust, solitude, and the extravagance of their own fevered imaginations: Zelik Rifkin, nebbishe mama's boy, invades his neighbors' dreams and nightmares, and heroically changes the outcomes; Hyman Weiss, would-be successor to Harry Houdini, failing at every attempt to re-create such illusions as the Tortures of the Procrustean Bed, ends up pulling off the most stupendous stunt of all; and Itchy Kabakoff, outcast and grifter, constantly on the move with a traveling carnival, carries as his baggage the memories of three generations of the Kabakoff clan. Steve Stern, a Sholom Aleichem on the Mississippi, is a consummate spinner of tales, a mythmaker. A Plague of Dreamers brilliantly evokes the American Jewish experience, weaving a tapestry of tradition and assimilation and, ultimately, of transformation.

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Product details

  • Paperback | 267 pages
  • 141.7 x 210.6 x 19.3mm | 308.45g
  • Syracuse University Press
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Syracuse Univ P.
  • 081560453X
  • 9780815604532

Back cover copy

Steve Stern returns with lyrically comic tales about the Pinch, a backwater Jewish community in Memphis, whose misbegotten citizens refer to themselves as 'the lost tribe.' Stern's dreamers are plagued by history, lust, solitude, and the extravagance of their own fevered imaginations.

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Review Text

Another beguiling dispatch from the Pinch - Memphis's Jewish ghetto - in the form of an intricate generational tale preceded by two curtain-raisers. The first story, "Zelig Rifkin and the Tree of Dreams," proceeds exactly as advertised: famed local coward Zelig Rifkin, tormented by the Pinch Gang and forced to climb a humongous tree to retrieve their lost kite, finds that from the height of the tree's branches he can see what everyone in town is dreaming, enter their dreams if he chooses, and puff himself for a few precious weeks into the mensch he's never been. "Hyman the Magnificent" presents a dry-goods escapist artist who, unwisely convinced that he's Houdini's spiritual son, fails at ever more dangerous stunts until the predictably paranormal climax. But Stern (Harry Kaplan's Adventures Underground, 1991, etc.) saves his boldest magic for his biggest story, "Annals of the Kabakoffs," in which a series of flashbacks reveal how family black-sheep Itchy Kabakoff - carnival hustler, author of a thousand seams, and agent of his father Moses's suicide - has all along been recapitulating the life of his grandfather Yankel, kidnapped from his native village and sold into the Tsar's army - until even Itchy himself realizes that his dreamlike liaison with his Tante Laylah, an authentic descendant of Lilith rescued from the family fate of disappearing by a timely application of printer's ink by Mose, binds him tighter to his family in more ways than one. So maybe the gears of the fantastic groan from time to time, but Stern never loses his command of the Hasidic storyteller's gift: he makes you feel that the entire universe is balanced on the Jewish neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee. (Kirkus Reviews)

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