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.
The Netanyahus is a generational campus novel, an unyielding academic lecture, a rigorous meditation on Jewish identity, an exhaustive meditation on Jewish-American identity, a polemic on Zionism, a history lesson. It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever.
—Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The New York Times
The Netanyahus…explores the violence intrinsic to intransigence and purity. With it [Cohen] proves himself not just America’s most perceptive and imaginative Jewish novelist, but one of its best novelists full stop.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Riffing freely on a true story, this brilliant and hilarious new book takes a cozily familiar form, the campus novel, and turns it into a slyly oblique fable about history, identity and the conflicted heart of Jewishness, especially in America.
—John Powers, NPR
Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus is the funniest, smartest, most exhilarating read of the year.
—Corey Robin, Jacobin
The true trick of The Netanyahus is that it can be read on two levels, romp or polemic, and not at once — it’s a bit of a duck-rabbit, in the end, flipping between the binary of the story of the founding of a nation and the story of the founding of a family. … Taken as a “minor and ultimately even negligible episode” from the archives of a “very famous family,” the novel is a lark; taken as a metafictional study of national identity and hegemony, it does most of what Cohen has always done well — wordplay, polemics, puns, the politics of assimilation, Jewishness, innovation in the novel as form — to harrowing effect.
—Jessi Jezewska Stevens, Foreign Policy
In The Netanyahus, Cohen has found a semifictional historical tapestry adequate to his vast imagination. He has written one of the only genuinely funny novels of political satire to be published since Donald Trump was elected president.
—Noah Kulwin, The New Republic
Cohen has performed a literary miracle of sorts, transforming the shadowy, dour figure of Benzion Netanyahu into the protagonist of an uproariously funny book.
—David N. Myers, The Los Angeles Review of Books
[The Netanyahus] marries some madcap Rothian scene-making with a greater and uncomfortable plumbing of what it means, all these years later, to be Jewish in America.
—Ross Barkan, The Baffler
[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] satirical coup de maître…an achingly funny novel, and all the more so for the fact that it includes chapter-long historiographical lectures and a constant smokescreen of counterfactual and metafictional games. … Written with Cohen’s customary chutzpah, intelligence and wit, The Netanyahus takes the reader on a dizzying journey.
—Jude Cook, The Times Literary Supplement
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
The Netanyahus is funny, exuberant, and intellectually stimulating, with an absorbing story culminating in a riotous climax — a virtuoso performance by a master.
—Bob Goldfarb, Jewish Book Council
As entertaining as it is insightful, The Netanyahus is exhilarating satire.
—Theo Henderson, Shelf Awareness
Cohen is an extraordinarily skilled writer, and his nearly manic prose is well suited to this ambitious and expansive, yet masterfully controlled, novel. … [The Netanyahus] is as enjoyable as it is intelligent: a truly brilliant book and a remarkable achievement.
This blistering portrait is great fun.