The Dance of Genghis Cohn by Romain Gary
New York : World Publishing Company, 1968. First Edition. Hardcover. 244 pages ; 22 cm. $5.00 dust jacket with minimal wear. Pages are unmarked. Binding is firm.
ROMAIN GARY author of The Roots of Heaven and The Ski Bum, as well as a host of other successful works, is a major French novelist whose international literary stature grows with every publication. He has now written what appears to be one of the genuine comic masterpieces of our time, THE DANCE OF GENGHIS COHN.
A dybbuk inhabits the mind of a former SS officer. Schatz, de-Nazified by tribunal and now a police chief of a city in the New Germany, is haunted by the ghost of Genghis Cohn. When this comic Jew of the ghetto faced the Nazi firing squad, he could find no other way of demonstrating his defiance than by showing them his bare ass. Schatz, the officer in charge of the execution, was so traumatized by this display of spirit that he "catches" the dybbuk of the slain comedian. For twenty years the ghost of Genghis Cohn has been holding the German in his power. <(Kush mir in tokhes!" thinks Schatz. "What hutzpeh!" (Yiddish is just one of the things Schatz has been taught by the dybbuk.)
Schatz is enmeshed in the investigation of a series of murders—twenty-two male victims who died with their pants off and an expression of ineffable bliss on their faces.
The case is at a standstill until the Baron, a member of the old aristocracy, implores Schatz to find his wife, Lily, who has run off with the gamekeeper, Florian. Beautiful, sexually insatiable Lily is engaged in a quest for a perfect lover. Schatz realizes he may have found the clue to the look of climactic joy on the murdered men.
At this point, Genghis Cohn, never one to leave the spotlight to another in life or in death, begins a song and dance, taunting Schatz to respond angrily—and in Yiddish, much to the astonishment of the Baron. Schatz is in imminent danger of being carted off to the madhouse.
Thus does Gary set the stage for a novel that examines the bloodguilt of a generation. Gary's wit is cruel, his hilarity savage, his comedy speared in every sentence with tragic reality. The Dance of Genghis Cohn has the dark fury of a Hieronymus Bosch canvas.
As the reader encounters Cohn/Conscience, Schatz/German, and Lily and Florian in their implacably destructive and replenishing roles, he will face some revelations concerning himself as a besieged member of mankind.
The Dance of Genghis Cohn has been acclaimed a "masterpiece" by the Israeli press; Der Spiegel described it as "Gary's Faust revised by the Marx Brothers"; and in France Beaux Arts called this novel "an atom bomb thrown in our conscience."
"The Dance of Genghis Cohn appears to me as his most shattering, most important book." -Livres de France
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