Whether chronicling the metropolitan peregrinations of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, or weaving together history and fantasy in 19th- century New York, Ben Katchor''s comics, filled with scratchy figures moving through gray-washed streets, feel like the relics of a half- forgotten dream. The Jew of New York takes an obscure historical footnote--an attempt in 1825 to establish a Jewish homeland in upstate New York--and spins it into an intricate tale of a rapidly developing city and its diverse inhabitants, from one-legged actresses, to wandering Jews, to masked anti-Semites. The plot wanders from place to place, never predictable, but always fascinating. The result is a like a story by Paul Auster, rewritten by Charles Dickens, as Katchor gradually draws the reader into his bizarre but precisely imagined world. Weird conspiracies, religious fanaticism, and a plan to carbonate Lake Erie are just three of the threads which Katchor weaves together, creating a version of 1830''s New York that captures the spirit of the times in a way that history cannot. The reader is never quite sure what is true, yet this powerfully imagined work is irresistibly compelling. Katchor''s disturbing, deeply layered historical palimpsest transforms his collection of misfit characters and the city that they inhabit into something rich and strange.
In 1825, Mordecai Noah, a New York politician and amateur playwright possessed of a utopian vision, summoned all the lost tribes of Israel to an island near Buffalo in the hope of establishing a Jewish state. His failed plan, a mere footnote in Jewish-American history, is the starting point for Ben Katchor''s brilliantly imagined epic that unfolds on the streets of New York a few years later.
A disgraced kosher slaughterer, an importer of religious articles and women''s hosiery, a pilgrim peddling soil from the Holy Land, a latter-day Kabbalist, a man with plans to carbonate Lake Erie--these are just some of the characters who move through Katchor''s universe, their lives interwoven in a common struggle to settle into the New World even as it erupts into a financial frenzy that could as easily leave them bankrupt as carry them into the future.
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