Taking a Sauna in Berlin with Michael Chabon

 The story is that i read this wonderfull book and wrote in “Haaretz”  newspaper some small diary about readin’ it in the Suana in Berlin. Then i translated the review and sent it over to Ayelet Waldman and she promise to send it to Michael Chabon. Well enjoy it.

Taking a Sauna in Berlin with Michael Chabon I pass several bridges on my way to the pool and the sauna, which are located not far from the Jewish Museum, in Berlin. There are lots of signs for the Jewish Museum and even the bus stop is named after it

Inside the sauna, I calmly read the novel by Michael Chabon, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”. I finished the twenty minutes of swimming, and I went inside ninety degrees of burning sauna. I am an exiled Jew in frozen Berlin, reading about the life of another exiled Jew – an American in a frozen exile who writes about what happened when Israel was defeated in the War of ’48. Like an addict I cannot stop reading the incessant pursuit of small details in his monumental work that I completely forget that I am walking naked in the Sauna. Women, like the men, are wandering around naked with bare bodies, and towels are only a recommendation. It’s incredibly hot in the sauna, starkly contrasting both the literary world I’m immersed in and the city outside the sauna, in which temperatures drop below zero

Lying down and relaxing, my thoughts curl and swivel away to the ceiling like fogging steam. I go back to Chabon because in his literary kingdom he has solved the problem of Israel’s existence. He cleaned the possibility of Zionism off the table and immediately took Jews “from exile to exile,” placing them in the ultimate remote community of American life –icy, snowy-white-Diaspora– Alaska

Landesman, the main character of Chabon’s book, a Raymond Chandler type of a detective, is searching for information that would unsolve a mystery of a murder mystery. It’s frozen in Alaska while the sauna is boiling. Even my lungs hold some of the heat of the sauna. And it is not that I have not been to the sauna before, but it is more than that; soon the outdoor temperature will drop below zero and I am warming up inside a heart-warming book that tells the story of Jewish reality which explains our zeitgeist to us

Chabon’s exile is nostalgic, but also an invention that allows it to be regarded as science fiction and fantasy. It is also a brilliant invention, a work of science-fiction and fantasy that connects Yiddish influences with American crime fiction while conducting a deep and serious discussion of Jews national identity. He writes about the Jewish exile with unprecedented creativity and innovation. He is faithful to the stories of the Yiddish Jews, but also to the gangster culture of America, as it was absorbed and reflected in literature, cinema and comics

And how hard it is to talk about exile, when the current Israeli winds are uttering this term as if it were an obscenity at worst, or simply erasing it, at best; Today, when Israel is turning away from peace, how hard it is to talk about exile.

Nevertheless is it possible to describe Jewish exiled culture without Chabon’s comical writing about Yiddish speaking Jews creating a permanent haven in Alaska following the collapse of the Zionist enterprise? And why a successful author like Chabon wrote about a world without an Israeli existence? Maybe, like a substantial part of American Jewry, he is fed up with the appropriation and sanctimonious appropriation of omnipotent and just Zionism that claims to be responsible for all the future, past and present of the Jewish world. Actually Chabon uses his humorous, mocking, graceful writing in order to turn at the Zionist intersection to a completely different direction. I think that he goes to Herzl’s political Zionism, but it is much more than Herzl. In his writing Jewish nationalism is about culture not militarism; about territory not nation; hybrid and Multi Cultural memory not forgetfulness

This time, I go into a softer sauna, surrounded again by naked men and women. I try to talk the same way that I do outside into the warm air, but I really can’t do it. My German girlfriend told me to relax and warned me from moving in large middle-eastern movements with my hands. I agreed to her kind request. Because I was already a little bit dizzy. Maybe some restraint would keep me from fainting inside the sauna – while revealing the foreign Diaspora that has been exposed in my nakedness.


3 thoughts on “Taking a Sauna in Berlin with Michael Chabon

  1. Mati, I am a poet in cold Chicago looking for Israeli/Mizrachi/Palestinian poets so I can read their poetry at Chicago area open mics. I write some poetry but I do want to read outloud
    other poetry. So, is there any English of your poetry anywhere? I am a part-time librarian so maybe I can buy a few books or at least recommend books to be bought. Could you possibly give me 5 or 10 poets you think are ok and I will get more names from these 5 or 10? Ok?
    I am a child of a 1920 NYC-born Jew from Bessarabia/Russia and my mother came from Berlin, Germany in 1934. I am 64 now. I read some of Chabon’s Yiddish book-pretty good stuff. I have a book by Taha Muhammad Ali and I know about Mahmoud Darwish. Best, Dan Weinberg


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