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Book Title: Dio mio, grazie|
Date of issue: 1984
ISBN 13: 9788806057022
The author of the book: Bernard Malamud
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.71 MB
Read full description of the books Dio mio, grazie:Starting From Scratch(ing)
“There is no Man without his Other.” This aphorism of the American philosopher Edgar A. Singer could be the theme (or running joke) of Bernard Malamud’s last novel. Malamud’s technique involves setting up a series of problematic situations in what is essentially a new Genesis as, effectively, a test of Singer’s maxim.
Adonai, HaShem, the Lord, the Creator allows mankind to annihilate itself in a brief but comprehensively decisive nuclear war. The divine intention was the entire eradication of mankind and all other animal life. But divine attention to detail was not all it should have been. Because he is in a deep submersible somewhere under the Pacific Ocean, the interestingly named Calvin Cohn, former rabbinical student turned scientist, son and grandson of a rabbi, accidentally survives.
This unauthorised Noah pleads for life with HaShem who is unsympathetic but fails to take further immediate action except to allow Calvin to drift to a tropical island. This divine indecisiveness produces yet another worry: “On good days Cohn told himself stories, saying the Lord would let him live if he spoke the right words. Or lived the right life. But how was that possible without another human life around?” Thus endeth the first day with the first question.
Turns out there is Another. But it’s a chimpanzee, a rather talented chimpanzee to be sure, but still and all an ape. Can a human-chimp duo constitute a life for either? Particularly if the chimp has been brought up Christian and the man a pious Jew. Can such a mixed family survive the strain of such cultural diversity? There are of course limits to inter-species communication, certainly physical, probably emotional and possibly mental. Nonetheless communication does take place. Is it enough for either party? Thus endeth the second day.
But just as the reader expects a linguistic breakthrough twixt man and beast, his mind is boggled by HaShem’s sense of humour in his operation of the devastated world. The Creator/Destroyer (blessed be his name) has also ‘forgotten’ to destroy a 500 lb. gorilla (the only authentic cliché, I think, in the book). The gorilla has an ear for devotional Yiddish music and so is attracted to the cosy island cave of chimp and man. Three is an awkward problem of course: the perpetual threat of jealousy, or two against one for starters. Does this new social melange inhibit meaningful bonding? Thus endeth day three.
So Buz the chimp, and George the gorilla, and Calvin the human settle down and try to find a social equilibrium. But, another surprise: before the nuclear oven, Buz’s scientist-keeper had fit him up with an artificial larynx. He can talk, with a heavy German accent and a limited vocabulary and no capacity for metaphor, but certainly sufficient to disturb the silence over the breakfast table. Trouble is, the table-talk is, if not intentionally anti-Semitic, then certainly biased toward the New Testament. And yet another, more fundamental problem pops up: if the chimp can use language so facilely, just what distinguishes homo sapiens in the order of creation? Thus endeth the fourth day.
Having suffered trauma as a youngster at the hands of a research scientist, George the gorilla is shy of intimacy. In any case Buz the chimp doesn’t like the “fot, smelly onimal”. George becomes even more skittish with the discovery of a troupe of five more chimps, with no human language ability of course, but Buz takes the role of translator. The situation is now highly complicated indeed. Economics quickly becomes the most pressing issue: How can the food resources of the island be shared and preserved with the growing population? Thus endeth the fifth day.
As the social organisation of the island becomes more stable, Calvin proceeds first with a Passover Seder and then a school(tree) to instruct the other primates, primarily in biblical lore but not neglecting science, particularly Darwinian and Freudian theory. This is where things get….well, weird in the extreme. Calvin decides that it’s his duty to mate with one of the newly mature chimps, Mary Madelyn, in order to speed up the evolutionary re-development of the world. The resulting offspring, a female, is of course chimp not human according to halachic law. But would the chimps see things the same way, particularly since they had in the meantime learned the joy of inter-species homicide with a group of newly arrived baboons? Thus endeth the sixth day.
On the seventh day Calvin rested. And who could blame him? It does not end well for Calvin of course. How could it? He must be sacrificed like Isaac. Or is it like Christ? The new creation goes on without him. Only George the gorilla is there to recite Kadesh, the prayer for the dead.
I cannot do more in understanding, much less interpreting, this novel. Is it a complex allegory of Jewish-Christian relations? Or a gnostic parable of inherent evil in creation? A post-modernist commentary on language or animal rights? Or merely an old man’s parting Jewish joke? Certainly it has similarities with fiction created decades in the future. One thinks particularly of James Morrow and his Blameless in Abaddon and Towing Jehovah. There are even possible echoes in China Mieville’s Embassytown. But ultimately God’s Grace is…well God’s Grace, whatever that may be.
Postscript: A kind GR reader has pointed toward the solution, as far as I'm concerned definitive, here:
Read information about the authorBernard Malamud was an author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
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