Corbin College, not-quite-upstate New York, winter 1959-1960: Ruben Blum, a Jewish historian—but not an historian of the Jews—is co-opted onto a hiring committee to review the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specializing in the Spanish Inquisition. When Benzion Netanyahu shows up for an interview, family unexpectedly in tow, Blum plays the reluctant host, to guests who proceed to lay waste to his American complacencies. Mixing fiction with non-fiction, the campus novel with the lecture, The Netanyahus is a wildly inventive, genre-bending comedy of blending, identity, and politics—“An Account of A Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family” that finds Joshua Cohen at the height of his powers.
No one writing in English today is more gifted than Joshua Cohen. Every page of The Netanyahus—an historical account of a man left out of history, a wickedly funny fable of the return of the repressed—crackles with Cohen’s high style and joyride intelligence.
The Netanyahus is constructed with a brilliant comic grace that moves from the sly to the exuberant. Some scenes are funny beyond belief. But even when moments in the book are sharp or melancholy, they keep an undertone of witty and ironic observation. The vision in this book is deeply original, making clear what a superb writer Joshua Cohen is.
A domestic sitcom farce, a ferocious academic sendup. And also, in contrast to an entire generation of fastidious timidities (Doctorow, Mailer, et al.), a rousing lecture on Jewish history leading to Zionism. The drive to quarrel with a character is only one of the delights of Cohen’s shrewd, exuberant, exhilarating and merry novel.
[Cohen] clearly is a genius … The Netanyahus [is] a comic historical fantasia – a dizzying range of bookish learning and worldly knowhow is given rich, resourceful expression. … With its tight time frame, loopy narrator, portrait of Jewish-American life against a semi-rural backdrop, and moments of cruel academic satire, The Netanyahus reads like an attempt, as delightful as it sounds, to cross-breed Roth’s The Ghost Writer and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. … This is a brisk, impudent, utterly immersive novel.
—Leo Robson, The Guardian
Cohen’s new book is among his best: a fastidious and very funny book that is one of the most purely pleasurable works of fiction I’ve read in ages.
—Jon Day, The Financial Times
The Netanyahus is Cohen’s sixth novel, his most conventional and his best to date. It is a tour de force: compact, laugh-out-loud funny, the best new novel I’ve read this year [and] probably the funniest novel ever written about contending historiographies. … [I]t’s the Netanyahus themselves that are unexpected. Arriving late in the book — having been pre-announced by brilliantly ventriloquised letters of scholarly recommendation — they pile out of the car, tramp snow all over the house and puncture the sensibilities of their hosts. Within four pages of their arrival, the reader has seen the future prime minister of Israel lean over and (maliciously) flick his younger brother’s willy. … When events take a late, serious turn, Cohen never deviates from the comic mode, deliberately leaving the reader questioning whether they should be finding this funny. Cohen’s lesson, in this determinedly comic novel, is that history happens as farce and tragedy simultaneously.
—John Phipps, The Times
The Netanyahus…is driven by the momentum of its prose. It has a freewheeling, all-consuming style which frequently turns up unexpected delights.
—Christopher Shrimpton, The Spectator
A veritable triumph.
—Andrew Gallix, The Irish Times
The Netanyahus is a comic masterpiece.
—Tadhg Hoey, Dublin Review of Books
The Netanyahus…has the exuberance and smarts of an on-fire stand-up comedian. … There are critics queuing up to pronounce Cohen a genius, it would be a churlish attention-seeking act if I didn’t declare myself to be another one of them.
—Jane Graham, The Big Issue
The Netanyahus…is a campus novel that is also a novel of ideas — a conjunction less common than one might expect. Luckily it’s also very, very funny.
—Len Gutkin, The Chronicle of Higher Education
A convincing and thoroughly entertaining midcentury campus novel, somewhere between Saul Bellow and Kingsley Amis — with a vulgar streak of Roth for good measure.
—Jonny Diamond, Lithub
[The Netanyahus] has all the ingredients of a ’60s TV sitcom that makes you cringe and roll off the sofa laughing at the same time. … A wonderful vehicle for [Cohen’s] talents as both a comic writer and novelist of ideas.
—David B. Green, Haaretz
In a masterfully clever and funny way, Cohen lets the war of ideas play out on the page, exposing the fallacies of both perspectives.
—Mikhail Krutikov, The Forward
It’s a delightful mix — part campus novel, part history of Zionism — crackling with humour … Clever, funny, dark, deeply moving, full of references to everyone from Nabokov and the Marx Brothers to Jabotinsky and the late Harold Bloom, The Netanyahus is a joy to read.
—David Herman, The Jewish Chronicle
This blistering portrait is great fun.
May 5, with Colm Tóibín, hosted by LRB Bookshop
June 22, with Corey Robin, hosted by Community Bookstore
June 28, with Rivka Galchen, hosted by Free Library of Philadelphia
July 8, hosted by Solid State Books
July 21, with Christopher Beha, hosted by Mark Twain House & Museum