Oh Sweden ! Oh Israel ! by Stephan Mendel-Enk
Translator – Michael Lundin
Original title – Tre Apor
Source – review copy
Stephan Mendel-Enk ,is a Swedish Journalist and writer ,he is best known in Sweden for his soccer Journalism ,were he writes for the leading Swedish Soccer magazine Offside .He has also published a non fiction book on Violence and being male .He has also worked in Radio and the leading Newspaper ,Oh Sweden ,Oh Israel is his début novel .The original Title is three apes I wonder if this is a reference to the three monkeys hear no evil ,see no evil ,speak no evil and how this relates to Jacob the main character in this book .
Next to the sofa in the living room was a piano .The opposite wall was covered by a brown bookcase .There were hundreds of books on the shelves .Colour photo books from when Israel celebrated its twentieth ,twenty fifth ,thirtieth and thiry-five anniversaries .One self with titles such as The Arab -Israeli Conflict and the Arab Israel wars .
The shelf at his Grans house show how drawn they are to Israel .
Well Oh Sweden ,Oh Israel follows ,Jacob a boy who is on the cusp of manhood and we follow his life in the run up to his Bar Mitzvah ,this is a classic coming of age novel .But then throw in Jacob is Jewish and his parents are about to split we have another couple of angles to move this above the mundane everyday Coming of age fiction .So Jacob struggles with who he is like most teenagers ,but with the fact he is part of the small Jewish community in Gothenburg ,to say the least of this Community ,is quite traditional the elders in it are mainly people who had escaped the Nazi during world war two they tend traditional views ,so his parents spilt has caused sparks as his mother has started to see a Man who isn’t Jewish .Then we hear of how they should be New York type Jews and this is all 1987 and the first Intifada is happening in Israel so Jacob is stuck in little old Sweden just wanting to be a normal teen with all this going on in the background this leads to may and laugh and revelation .
She was from the soviet Union.I thought Soviet Jews were exciting .They had to suffer forcible incarcerations in mental hospitals ,work camps and police violence ,For one year in Hebrew school we’d had the Jews of the Soviet Union as our theme .Bewfore we broke up for the summer hoildays we stage our interpretation of the Dymshits-Kuznetovs hijacking affair in the meeting hall .
Jacob like the Girl Zaddinsky ,she came from Russia to Sweden ?
Well this has a huge vein of Jewish humour through it ,I was remind I not got to this last week when I watched the Woody Allen Documentary on TV ,Allen’s great line on growing up was this “what did you want to be when young ? Old !”,that same irony and at time self loathing and worry is rich in Mendel-Enk words that conjure up the small community with in the large city and also the troubled family ,tales of a mess up Circumcision ,leads to woe to his forthcoming Bar Mitzvah celebration .The nearest English writer to him is early Jacobson one can see echoes of the Gothenburg of Jacob and the Manchester evoked in some Jacobson novels.What we have is more than a coming of age novel but also a culture clash novel he is caught between being Swedish and being Jewish ,torn between his parents also caught to whom he is as a person .The book is short only 140 pages and packs a good punch for such a short book .
Have you a favourite book by a Jewish writer ?