Hoffman's latest and bleakest work - the third in his Small Worlds
cycle (Small Worlds, 1996; Big League Dreams, 1997) - continues the
saga of the disciples of the Krimsker Rebbe in the darkening years
of the '30s and '40s. The duo of the title are a pair of offstage
characters whose depredations can spell only disaster for the
now-scattered Jews of Krimsk. In the first of the novel's two
parts, it is Rosh Hashanah 1936, and Rabbi Finebaum's own
son-in-law, Hershel Shwartzman, is a worker in the sinister arts, a
colonel in the NKVD whose primary duty is the torturing of
political prisoners. But Grisha, as he's known, begins to suffer
his own loss of faith as it dawns on him that the wheels of death
he helps to run will inevitably grind him up also. As fear
displaces zeal, he is drawn into the kind of self-examination that
can't help but lead to his demise. The second (and shorter)
narrative is set on Yom Kippur 1942 and reintroduces two of the
major characters from Small Worlds: Yechiel Katzman, once the
Rebbe's prize pupil, banished for apparent heresy, and Itzik
Dribble, the sweet-natured retarded boy who was an integral part of
that earlier novel's climax. Now, both are in the clutches of the
Nazi killing machine: Katzman, an inhabitant of the Warsaw Ghetto,
is on a train to Treblinka; Itzik, who has grown to immense size
and strength, is an uncomprehending tool of the SS. A master of the
art of getting into his characters' heads, Hoffman creates
intricate and thoroughly convincing monologues. And he hasn't lost
his taste for the miraculous nature of the everyday, a fascination
that makes him one of the logical heirs to the legacy of Isaac
Bashevis Singer. (Kirkus Reviews)
This searing third novel in the critically acclaimed Small Worlds
series records the cruel fate of the villagers of Krimsk as they
encounter the twentieth century's greatest agents of evil: Joseph
Stalin and Adolph Hitler. In Moscow at the height of the 1936
Stalinist purges, Grisha Shwartzman discovers on Rosh Hashanah-the
Jewish New Year and Day of Judgment-that he is in danger of
liquidation by the secret police he serves. In 1942, Yechiel
Katzman finds himself on a train of imprisoned Jews as it leaves
the Warsaw ghetto on Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement-for
"resettlement in the East." Stalin and Hitler decree certain death,
but in the course of their experiences Grisha and Yechiel discover
Jewish fates. Through memory, both men gain community, dignity, and
the awareness of sanctity, Grisha's "Soviet" Rosh Hashanah and
Yechiel's "Nazi" Yom Kippur are truly "Days of Awe."
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