Fiction or Foreshadowing: Tell Me How This Ends Well

Common bookworm struggles include discovering new reads and having a large enough budget to accommodate said book discoveries.  When I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s program, Blogging for Books, I was thrilled.  Free books in exchange for book reviews (which I happen to love writing)….a definite no brainer! 

9780451496881Within the literary fiction genre, David Samuel Levinson’s Tell Me How This End Well grabbed my interest as a work of Jewish American literature. The colorful dust jacket and cartoonish font belies the narrative found inside Levinson’s story, which is packed with complex characters and literary themes.  Some themes which grabbed my attention include:

From Bondage to Freedom

Passover, the Jewish holiday which recalls the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, serves as the symbolic backdrop for the novel’s main plot development.  The Jacobson family has endured the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse of its patriarch, Julian Jacobson.  Julian has all of the traits of a psychopath and the family has suffered long enough under Julian’s watch.  As the family reluctantly gathers for the family Seder, a plan unfolds with the intention of killing Julian. 

The plot is revealed through the narration of each of the Jacobson children, Jacob, Edith, and Mo, followed by their mother, Roz.  The individual attention given to each family member’s perspective is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Readers are able to see Julian through the eyes of each person, and just like in real life, each Jacobson has internalized Julian’s actions differently. The plot to kill Julian is messy and often takes unexpected turns.  The family initially is not working together, which leaves the reader to ponder, “Which family member will lead the Jacobson family out of their own personal Egypt?”

Second Generation Relationships

An added dimension to Levinson’s novel is the tense relationships that exist between second (and even third) generation Jews and Germans, post-Holocaust.  Readers are first introduced to Jacob Jacobson, a queer screenplay writer living in Germany with his lover, Dietrich.  Levinson spends a lot of time describing the tensions between Dietrich and Jacob, which culminate in a bizarre beach scene where Jacob and Diet are arrested by the police for public indecency.  “What wasn’t right was so wrong, so utterly, horribly, disgustingly wrong, that it was nearly indescribable, nearly but not quite, for there was Jacob in the schmatte with the yellow Star of David embroidered into the pocket and there was Dietrich in the SS uniform, shiny black leather boots and all.”

It would take a lot of psychoanalysis and white space to break down the complexity of this scene.  My interpretation is that Jacob and Diet’s relationship ties into larger themes of power struggles, personal empowerment, and what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Isolationism vs Interventionism

In the futuristic landscape of 2022, American Jews are the subject of regular anti-Semitic attacks.  Israel has been disbanded and Israeli refugees find themselves unwelcome guests.  Even though this may be a work of fiction, Levinson’s portrayal of an isolationist United States is not too far off from our current political climate.  The questions which Levinson’s novel pokes at, and which every Jewish person has found themselves asking include, “What happens when things go south again?  What safe haven will exist for Jews?”  In fact, the title of the book, Tell Me How This Ends Well, can be an invitation to discuss not only the personal ending to Julian Jacobson’s reign of terror, but the larger ending (or beginning?) of the Jewish plight. 

As the novel comes to a close, readers discover that Jacob is welcomed in Berlin.  Germany has become an unexpected ally to the Jews.  The U.S. Jacobson family members continue to struggle with anti-Semitism.  Jacob tries to convince them to join him in Germany, “…which made it a capital offense to harm in any way or kill a person of Jewish descent”.  Fast forward to 2024 and the last page of the novel, where Roz Jacobson has passed away and Germany has ratified the law, removing Jews from “The Approved List of Protected Species”.  In an uncertain and unsafe landscape without their matriarch, the Jacobson children continue onwards.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is a challenging and thought provoking novel.  The characters are memorable.  There are so many competing themes in the narrative and I felt the pull of all of theme, which served as a distraction.  With that being said, this would be a great book selection for a JCC book club or Jewish American literature class, as there are many angles to discuss.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Keep Your Head Up

When inspiration strikes, it is rarely a wise choice to question its origins.  The motivation for this post arrived at the gym, while I was lifting and listening to rap on Pandora.  2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”* played, and these lyrics jumped out at me:

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but you gotta keep your head up..”

*Let me just go on the defense: Yes, I am fully aware of the complicated history of hip-hop culture and the objectification of women.  That’s not what this post is about.  I felt empowered by the lyrics and wanted to used them today.  If you would like to break down hip-hop culture, watch Byron Hurt’s Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.

I have been keyed up ever since this election cycle started.  From the beginning, I argued that Trump would win the nomination.  The country’s atmosphere has felt toxic for quite some time.  Institutionalized racism, misogyny and corruption has reached a boiling point.  It is my contention that the events that are unfolding are in direct response to the leadership of a black man and the potential nomination of a woman.  And if we listen to “Keep Ya Head Up” within the context of our current culture, being a black woman is a double strike.  Between 1993 and now (23 years!), the same concerns are still relevant.

Generally speaking, I am really scared about the direction our country is heading.  Specifically, I am really fucking concerned for women.  All women.  All day.  Everyday.

In his essay “Men, Masculinity, and the Rape Culture”, Michael Kimmel writes:

“What is it about groups that seem to bring out the worst in men?  I think is is because the animating condition for most American men is a deeply rooted fear of other men – a fear that other men will see us as weak, feminine, not manly.  The fear of humiliation, of losing in the competitive ranking among men, of being dominated by other men – these are the fears that keep men in line and that reinforce traditional notions of masculinity as a false sense of safety.”

Let me not mince words:  Donald J. Trump’s trumped up masculinity reinforces misogynistic attitudes and threatens the progress of feminists (both men and women) who have been working to unravel the dangerous construct of masculinity which Kimmel has written about extensively.  Trump uses rhetoric, fear mongering, and a pack mentality to keep men (and by extension, any of his supporters) in line.

The video leaked this week illuminates the pack mentality which Kimmel describes.  Bush and Trump’s banter demonstrate a type of masculinity where powerful, rich men are free to take their spoils (women), and arguably, less powerful men, either non-celebrities or non-conformists, are the pussies without pussy.

We have tons of footage depicting Trump’s attitudes towards women.  What concerns me most is how other men are responding.  I need not look very far to find examples:

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Never mind the harassment over the past eight months that I have rocked Hillary’s logo as my Facebook profile pic, but I see these comments EVERYWHERE on social media.  Women that support Hillary are labeled stupid, “slovenly”, and their femininity is questioned, while their male counterparts are mocked as weak, feminized men.

Can we look past the rhetoric, gimmicks, and buffoonery of Donald Trump?  Can we look within ourselves and truly evaluate our own attitudes toward sexuality, gender, and the patriarchy?  Kimmel writes toward the end of his essay these words:

“Part of transforming a rape culture means transforming masculinity, encouraging and enabling men to make other choices about that we do with our bodies, insisting that men utilize their own agency to make different sorts of choices.  To ignore men, to believe that women alone will transform a rape culture, freezes men in a posture of defensiveness, defiance, and immobility.”

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the status quo – a place where men must conform to stereotypical masculine norms and women are objects to grab and eyeball.  During this contentious time, do we have the strength to keep our heads up and speak out?  If not with our words, with our vote.  It is one of the most powerful tools we have right now.