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Far From Flatbush

The Columns of Brighton Hall

 

Columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. You learn about them in school, especially if you studied architecture (which I did for a year at City College). They were a common sight in my neighborhood, found on all kinds of buildings, from shabby to sumptuous. (See "Tara of Flatbush.")

 

The columns in the above photo, taken in 2019, are the ones in front of Brighton Hall, the building on East 17th Street where I lived from 1953–65. The building itself and the street in front of it are two of the main settings for Bobby in Naziland.

 

As I've noted in previous posts, much about the building and street have changed in the ensuing decades. For example, it's a different front door, the concrete bannisters are gone, the lights are new, and there were no fences. The columns, too, have been modified. Though still clearly Doric, the fluting that I recall so well is no longer visible; the columns have been covered in some sort of spackle-like material and painted black. (Click here to see how the building looked in 1940.)

 

Yet there they stand, as solid as ever. And when I look upon them now, I remember that once upon a time I was small enough to fit, with room to spare, between the columns and the walls. And that's where I stood so many years ago when I pressed my cheek against the fluted gray stone.

 

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1; it's now available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

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Tara of Flatbush

 

It's one of the most striking homes in serene and stately Prospect Park South, and I began to think of it as Tara of Flatbush after seeing Gone With the Wind. Modeled after a classical Greek temple, this glorious colonnaded abode looked like the kind of place Scarlett O'Hara would have wanted to live… had she ever come north to Brooklyn.

 

Flatbush Tara also had an attached greenhouse in the back (not visible in this photo), which appears to have been converted to a sunroom. It's smaller than I remember from bygone days, and I now doubt my entire apartment on East 17th Street, two blocks away, would have fit inside, as the caption, excerpted from Bobby in Naziland, says. But that's the way it looked to me as a kid—which is indicative of how the passage of time distorts memory. The more time that passes, the more the line blurs between what you remember and the reality of the way it was. That, too, is a theme I explore in the book.

 

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1; it's now available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

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The Boulevards of Prospect Park South

 

The "mini-neighborhood" mentioned above, in another excerpt from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, is Prospect Park South, an affluent district within working-class Flatbush.

 

Though Prospect Park South is in most ways the same as when I moved away, in 1965, two differences struck me when I returned in 2019: The houses are in much better shape than they were a half-century ago, and day trippers posing for selfies in front of the "eccentric mansions" now populate the "depopulated boulevards." The old hood has become a tourist destination.

 

You can see the graceful curve and some of the eccentric mansions in the photo, taken on Buckingham Road.

 

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1. It's now available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

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Chvrch Avenve

 

The above caption is from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, which Headpress will publish September 1. It describes the gateway to an opulent mini-neighborhood, within Flatbush, that stood in mind-boggling contrast to the shabbiness of East 17th Street, where I lived. The photo was taken recently, on the corner of Church Avenue and Marlboro Road. Though many things about the neighborhood have changed since 1965, when I moved away, some, like the red brick monoliths, are exactly the same.

 

"You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

As Bobby in Naziland's publication date inches closer, in addition to brief excerpts from the book and accompanying photos, I'll be posting links to reviews. In the first one, which ran in The Jewish Voice, a Brooklyn newspaper, the critic said, "You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

And I'll post information about media mentions, like the one you'll find in the coming attractions in the summer issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands now. (Look for the Star Wars covers.)

 

Bobby in Naziland is available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

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I Didn't Go Home Again

 

A few weeks ago, I went back to Flatbush with my personal paparazzo, Mary Lyn Maiscott, to photograph some of the locations I wrote about in Bobby in Naziland, which Headpress will publish September 1. One of the places I visited was Brighton Hall, the apartment building on East 17th Street, between Church and Caton Avenues, where I lived from 1953–65.

 

Much of the book is set in the building or on the street in front of it. Though parts of East 17th Street have become almost unrecognizable in the decades since I moved away, the interior of my old building—the banisters, the stairs, the tiles on the hallway floor—are unchanged. They are the original fixtures from when Brighton Hall was built, almost 90 years ago.

 

The stairs I'm sitting on, in the above photo, are right outside my old apartment, on the third floor. When I lived there, on days I didn't feel like going home, and it was too cold or wet to be outside, I sat on those steps biding my time, wondering if my mother was wondering where I was.

 

As I was sitting there, in 2019, a young man speaking Spanish on his cell phone came up the stairs and opened the door to my old apartment. I was tempted to ask him, in my fractured Spanish, if I could look inside. I hadn't seen the apartment in 54 years. But to ask such a question seemed rude and intrusive, to say the least. I couldn't bring myself to do it, and the door closed behind him.

 

So I didn't go home again. Maybe because you can't.

 

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The Past Came Calling

My father, Irwin Rosen, circa 1942.

Soon after the Brooklyn-based news site BK Reader published an article titled "New Book 'Bobby in Naziland' Tells a Different Tale of Flatbush," the past came calling—in the form of a tweet.

 

Somebody whose name I didn't recognize said he saw the article and thought we might be related. In the tweet, he asked about my father, Irwin Rosen, his candy store on Church Avenue, and two of my uncles, all of which I wrote about in the book.

 

My new Twitter follower is my father's first cousin—my first cousin once removed. And the likely reason I'd never heard of him is because of an ancient family feud of obscure origins that rendered a significant portion of my father's relatives persona non grata, at least as far as my parents were concerned. There are numerous people in my family whom my parents never told me about and whom I first learned about as an adult. Some of them are still alive; others share my last name and lived nearby when I was a kid.

 

In Bobby in Naziland, to be published in August, I write about the shock of these discoveries.

 

My cousin then sent me some family photos, including the one of my father, above.

 

As William Faulkner so aptly put it, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

 

Imagine if he had social media.

 

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Adventures in Fact Checking

 

I've been proofreading the galleys for Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, which Headpress will publish in the coming months. Part of the proofreading process involves fact checking—veryifying every name and date that it's possible to verify.

 

Mostly it's straightforward; a Google search provides the answer. But Bobby in Naziland, set in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, often defies Google. Checking the weather for a particular day in 1952, for example, involves digging through newspaper archives. And many of the Brooklyn places I wrote about are long gone—like N.E. Tell's bakery on Church Avenue. Was I spelling it correctly? Were there periods after the "N" and "E"? Was there a space between the two letters? Was there an apostrophe before the "s"?

 

The New York City Municipal Archives recently digitized their tax-photo collection, which they describe as follows:

 

Between 1939 and 1941, the Works Progress Administration, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Taxation, organized teams of photographers to shoot pictures of every building in the five boroughs of New York City.

 

I found the answers to my spelling questions there—and it was a eureka moment of genuine excitement. Then I enlarged the photo, which you can do on the site, and saw the apostrophe "s" on the side of the truck. I felt as if I'd discovered a time machine.

 

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Naziland in 3-D

This computer-generated image of my forthcoming book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, creates the illusion that the book exists, in three dimensions. It does not... yet. But this is what it will look like when it's published later this year, publication date soon to be announced.

 

 

A recent tweet from Headpress notes that Bobby in Naziland "touches on topics as wide ranging as the trial of Adolf Eichnmann, goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself."

 

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Coverboy

The cover photo on my new book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, to be published in the coming months by Headpress, was taken by my mother, in my grandmother's house, in 1956, with a Brownie Hawkeye camera.

 

"Smile naturally!" my mother demanded as she snapped the picture. Her direction made me so nervous, I couldn't smile at all. I could only stare into the camera in a state of deer-in-the-headlights shock.

 

The photo sits atop the piano in my house. And though I've been living with it for more than 60 years, it never occurred to me it could be a book cover. In fact, I couldn't think of any single image that would capture the essence of Bobby in Naziland.

 

"What about this?" my wife asked, showing me the photo.

 

It was perfect, I realized: the expression, the position of my hands, the saddle shoes, high-waisted pants, and 50s-style shirt.

 

Headpress thought so, too, and added the frame, wallpaper, and map of Flatbush.

 

"Good work," I told my mother. "Did you know you were shooting a book cover that day?"

 

She thought that was funny. I thought it was funny that my unsmiling four-year-old self had become a coverboy.

 

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Gracias Madrid/Thank You, Madrid

El grupo en el restaurante Strawberry Fields después de mi presentación en el Café Comercial, en Madrid. El traductor Diego Harris está en el extremo izquierdo; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen y María Martín son el quinto, el sexto y el séptimo desde la izquierda. (Si a alguien más le gustara ser identificado, por favor déjemelo saber)./The crowd at Strawberry Fields restaurant after my presentation at Café Comercial, in Madrid. Translator Diego Harris is at the far left; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen, and María Martín are fifth, sixth, and seventh from left. (If anybody else would like to be identified, please let me know.)

 

"Esta es una de las noches más memorables de mi carrera", le dije al grupo reunido en Strawberry Fields, un local de hamburguesas cuadra abajo desde el Café Comercial, en Madrid. Era el 3 de noviembre y recién habíamos venido del café, donde por las últimas dos horas yo había estado respondiendo preguntas, sobre la nueva edición en español de mi libro Nowhere Man. Y ese céntrico restaurante beatle era el lugar ideal, para celebrar mi primera presentación en España. El video "Hey Jude" de los Beatles estaba rodando en la pantalla detrás de nosotros, y mi esposa, Mary Lyn Maiscott, señaló que su viejo amigo Joel Soroka estaba tocando la pandereta, en esa cápsula de tiempo de 50 años. María Martín, quien colabora con Jordi Melgosa en la revista beatle El Submarí Groc y quien organizó el evento, pareció encantada con esta pequeña noticia.

La energía había sido eléctrica durante toda la noche. Me sorprendía y apocaba que tantas personas hubieran venido de toda España, para asistir al evento. Su amor por los Beatles era incondicional; estaban ansiosos de cualquier información nueva, y deseosos de oír lo que yo tuviera que decir sobre mis experiencias, de muchos años atrás, mientras editaba los diarios de John Lennon. Sus preguntas fueron desafiantes, fue como una conferencia de prensa. Yo lamento que no pude ofrecer mejores respuestas, a la ráfaga de preguntas sobre la ama de llaves española de John Lennon, Rosaura López Lorenzo, sobre quien conocí mucho después que Nowhere Man fuera publicado. Cuando se trataba de los empleados, Lennon sólo escribía sobre esos que lo enojaban y, al parecer, Rosaura se las agenció para quedarse en su lado bueno.

La audiencia llenó el café con una clase de emoción, que no se parece a ninguna cosa que yo haya visto en Estados Unidos en décadas. Estos fanáticos de los Beatles españoles eran personas no cínicas, que no pudieron obtener suficiente de los Cuatro Fabulosos cuando ellos existían como grupo, o que habían nacido demasiado tarde y los habían extrañado por completo.

Como mi traductor, Diego Harris, quien nació en 1977, me había dicho antes: “Yo estoy feliz de haber estado vivo al mismo tiempo que John Lennon.”

Hacia el final de la presentación, yo expliqué cómo mi experiencia me había habilitado para escribir Nowhere Man, y leí un extracto de mi nuevo libro, Bobby en Nazilandia (que será publicado el próximo año, por Headpress), describiendo cómo compré mi primer álbum grabado, Meet the Beatles, por tres dólares, en una tienda de cinco y diez centavos el 10 de febrero de 1964, el día después que la banda apareció por primera vez en el programa de Ed Sullivan. Fue, dije, “la primera vez en mi vida, que yo poseyera una música que pudiera llamar mía propia”. Y por el medio siglo siguiente, he continuado prestando una atención cercana.

Esa noche mágica en Madrid, marcó asimismo el 18 aniversario de la publicación de un libro, que por 18 años nadie había publicado. Yo dudo que pudiera haber habido una mejor manera de celebrarlo, que con mis nuevos amigos en el Café Comercial y en la fiesta posterior en Strawberry Fields. Me sentí como un embajador de Nutopia, un representante terrenal del señor Lennon, haciendo lo que pudiera para comunicar su vibra, en un tiempo cuando parece que nosotros podemos necesitarla más que nunca.

Así que yo quiero expresar mi más profunda gratitud, a todos quienes hicieron posible el evento y vinieron al Café Comercial, especialmente a María; a Diego, por sus extraordinarias traducciones al vuelo; a Arturo Gonzalez, editor de 10, Mathew Street, por su cobertura a lo largo de los años, y por el gran tour por Madrid que él y su esposa Almudena nos dieron a Mary Lyn y a mí; y a René Portas, quien tradujo no sólo Nowhere Man, sino asimismo la declaración de apertura que yo leí en el café, así como éste y muchos otros posts del blog.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Thank You, Madrid


“This is one of the most memorable nights of my career,” I told the crowd gathered at Strawberry Fields, a hamburger joint down the block from Café Comercial, in Madrid. It was November 3, and we’d just come from the café, where for the past two hours I’d been answering questions about the new Spanish edition of my book Nowhere Man. And this Beatles-centric restaurant was the ideal place to celebrate my first presentation in Spain. The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” video was playing on the screen behind us, and my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, pointed out that her old friend Joel Soroka was playing the tambourine in this 50-year-old time capsule. María Martín, who collaborates with Jordi Melgosa on the Beatles magazine El Submarí Groc and who organized the event, seemed delighted with this unexpected bit of news.

The energy had been electric throughout the night. I was amazed and humbled that so many people had come from all over Spain to attend the event. Their love of the Beatles was unconditional; they were hungry for any new information and eager to hear what I had to say about my experiences, so many years ago, editing John Lennon’s diaries. Their questions were challenging—it was like a press conference. I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide better answers to the flurry of questions about John Lennon’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosaura López Lorenzo, whom I learned about long after Nowhere Man was published. When it came to employees, Lennon only wrote about the ones who pissed him off and, apparently, Rosaura managed to stay on his good side.

The audience filled the café with the kind of emotion that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in America in decades. These Spanish Beatle fanáticos were uncynical people who couldn’t get enough of the Fab Four when they existed as a group, or were born too late and had missed them entirely.

As my translator, Diego Harris, who was born in 1977, had told me earlier, “I’m happy to have been alive at the same time as John Lennon.”

Toward the end of the presentation, I explained how my background had enabled me to write Nowhere Man, and I read an excerpt from my new book, Bobby in Naziland (to be published next year, by Headpress), describing how I bought my first record album, Meet the Beatles, for three dollars, in a five-and-dime store on February 10, 1964, the day after the band first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was, I said, “the first time in my life I possessed music I could call my own.” And for the next half century, I’ve continued to pay close attention.

This magical night in Madrid also marked the 18th anniversary of the publication of a book that, for 18 years, nobody would publish. I doubt there could have been a better way to celebrate than with my new friends in Café Comercial and at the after-party in Strawberry Fields. I felt like the Nutopian ambassador, an earthly representative of Señor Lennon, doing what I could to communicate his vibe at a time when it seems as if we need it more than ever.

So I want to express my deepest gratitude to everybody who made the event possible and who came to Café Comercial—especially María; Diego, for his extraordinary on-the-fly translations; Arturo Gonzalez, editor of 10, Mathew Street, for his coverage over the years and for the grand tour of Madrid he and his wife Almudena gave Mary Lyn and me; and René Portas, who translated not only Nowhere Man, but also the opening statement I read at the café as well as this and many other blog posts.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Finally...

Church Avenue near East 17th Street in Flatbush, in the early 1960s: the main drag of Bobby in Naziland.

 

I received word recently that Headpress, the publisher of my previous book, Beaver Street, will publish Bobby in Naziland sometime next year--as nonfiction.

There will be a lot more news to come. For now, here’s a synopsis:

From the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the mid-1950s, to the arrival of the Beatles, in 1964, Bobby in Naziland takes you on an unsentimental journey through one Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood. Though only a 20-minute and 15-cent subway ride from the gleaming towers of Manhattan across the East River, Flatbush—or Flapbush, as native Flatbushians called it—was a provincial, working-class place, frozen in time, where concentration camp survivors and army vets who’d fought the Nazis lived side by side and World War II lingered like a mass hallucination (along with the ghost of the Dodgers). It was a place hell-bent on vengeance, seething with hatred, and suffering from an epidemic of what was not yet called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Voice-driven and darkly comic, this slice of autobiography focuses on the interplay of the personal and historical, and is narrated by “Bobby,” an adult who channels thoughts and emotions from his childhood: “I was 97 days old when a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove, more commonly known as ‘the father of the H-bomb,’ introduced Planet Earth to this brand-new way to exterminate the human race.”

Grappling to understand and come to terms with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and the historical weight of the Holocaust, the young Bobby obsessively draws mushroom clouds and broods about Nazi atrocities as he watches his family and neighbors celebrate the capture, trial, and execution of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Along the way, he provides a child’s-eye view of the mid-20th-century American experience, often as it plays out in his father’s candy store. Among the subjects he explores are goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself.

The story moves towards a climactic moment of self-discovery through self-mutilation, a misguided act brought about by emotional abuse, the physical violence so prevalent in the neighborhood, and the latent yet inescapable pain of the Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who surround Bobby.

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Mi hechizo latinoamericano/My Latin American Mojo

América latina, para mí, es un universo alternativo, donde todo en lo que yo he estado trabajando, por los últimos 40 años, ha llegado a suceder en un lenguaje, que apenas puedo entender.

Cuando yo fui a la ciudad de México, en 2003, poco después que Random House Mondadori (desde entonces re-nombrada Penguin Random House), publicara por primera vez Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, y cuando retorné a México en 2005, y luego fui a Chile, los medios de esos países reaccionaron a mi visita, como si yo fuera el autor de Harry Potter. Mi rostro fue desplegado en toda la tv, los periódicos y las revistas en una extensión tan desconcertante, que la gente me reconocía en la calle, y así confirmé la verdad esencial de la antigua cita de Woody Allen: “El ochenta por ciento del éxito está apareciendo”. Y eso es especialmente cierto, si tú estás apareciendo en un lugar a 5,000 millas de distancia.

¿Pero seguiría mi hechizo latinoamericano funcionando, en 2017, para una edición española ampliada y re-traducida de Nowhere Man? La respuesta, estoy feliz de reportar, fue un resonante “sí”, y yo incluso no tuve que salir de mi casa para poner las cosas en marcha. Empezó en el cumpleaños de Lennon, el 9 de octubre —el día que la nueva edición fue publicada—, cuando el periódico chileno La Tercera divulgó un extracto de Nowhere Man, y lo continuó al día siguiente con una entrevista.

Un mes más tarde, un artículo sobre el libro en el semanario mexicano Proceso, de Roberto Ponce, basado en parte en una entrevista publicada en el sitio argentino Espectador, envió Nowhere Man a la cima de las listas en Amazon de México.

Entonces las cosas se pusieron surrealistas. Las noticias anunciaron por todo el mundo, el 21 de noviembre, que los diarios robados de John Lennon —los diarios que yo transcribí en 1981, y que habían servido como un mapa de ruta para Nowhere Man—, habían sido recuperados en una casa de subastas en Berlín. Yo no sabía que el chofer de Yoko Ono había, supuestamente, robado los diarios. (Él afirma que no los robó). Pensaba que los diarios habían sido devueltos a Ono en 1982. Aún más sorprendente fue que los medios españoles y latinoamericanos, estaban citando extensamente de Nowhere Man, dándome la clase de publicidad que el dinero no puede comprar.

Yo arribé a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento oficial el 27 de noviembre. ¿Por qué Buenos Aires? Déjenme contar las razones: mi traductor René Portas y mi agente argentina, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, viven allí. Argentina es un país que adora tanto a los Beatles como la literatura. (El apartamento de Beatriz y René está a la vuelta de la esquina, de donde Jorge Luis Borges vivió alguna vez.) Yo nací 12 horas después que Eva Perón muriera, y siempre he sentido una conexión con ella y la ciudad. Y como un bono extra añadido, mi amigo Avi Avner estaba en la ciudad, actuando como consultante principal de la Mossad, para la película Operación Final, sobre la captura de Adolf Eichmann en Buenos Aires, cual es asimismo un tema en mi libro aún no publicado, Bobby en Nazilandia.

Lo más destacado de los medios sobre mi estadía en la capital argentina, incluye una entrevista en vivo en el programa de Martín Aragón, Eternamente Beatles, con Octavio Cavalli sirviendo como mi traductor; una entrevista con Luis Kramer para su programa, Cinefilia; y una extensa entrevista grabada en video con Vanesa Preli de Radio Zonica, que aún no está al aire.

Había más por venir cuando retorné a Nueva York: un extracto del libro en Proceso, un artículo sobre eso en Cultura Colectiva y un episodio titulado “El misterio de John Lennon”, escuchado más de 72,000 veces, en el programa de radio de internet del periodista español Iker Jiménez, Universo Iker.

Porque yo trabajo para Vanity Fair en Nueva York, mi trozo de prensa favorito fue una pieza humorísticamente salaz, titulada “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon”, de Alejandro Mancilla, que apareció en Vanity Fair de México. Inspirado por una crítica de Rodrigo Fresan, publicada en Página 12 en el 2000, el artículo es, más o menos, un estudio de las escenas de sexo en Nowhere Man. Su toque más surrealista es ver mi nombre en negrita, al lado de algunos como Louis C.K. y Miley Cyrus.

¡Yeah, baby, yo aún tengo mi hechizo!

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My Latin American Mojo


Latin America, to me, is an alternate universe where everything I’ve been working for, for the past 40 years, has come to pass in a language I can barely understand.

When I went to Mexico City, in 2003, soon after Random House Mondadori (since renamed Penguin Random House) first published Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, and when I returned to Mexico, in 2005, and then went on to Chile, the media in those countries reacted to my visit if I were the author of Harry Potter. My face was splashed all over TV, newspapers, and magazines to the disorienting extent that people recognized me in the street, thus confirming the essential truth of the old Woody Allen quote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And it’s especially true if you’re showing up in a place 5,000 miles away.

But would my Latin American Mojo still be working, in 2017, for a retranslated and expanded Spanish edition of Nowhere Man? The answer, I’m happy to report, was a resounding Yes, and I didn’t even have to leave my house to get things going. It began on Lennon’s birthday, October 9—the day the new edition was published—when the Chilean newspaper La Tercera ran an excerpt from Nowhere Man and followed it up the next day with an interview.

A month later, an article about the book in the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, by Roberto Ponce, based in part on an interview published on the Argentine site Espectador, sent Nowhere Man to the top of the charts on Amazon Mexico.

Then things got surreal. News broke all over the world, on November 21, that John Lennon’s stolen diaries—the diaries that I’d transcribed in 1981, and had served as roadmap for Nowhere Man—were recovered in an auction house in Berlin. I didn’t know that Yoko Ono’s chauffeur had allegedly stolen the diaries. (He claims he didn’t steal them.) I thought the diaries had been returned to Ono in 1982. Even more shocking was that Spanish and Latin American media were quoting extensively from Nowhere Man, giving me the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.

I arrived in Buenos Aires for the official launch on November 27. Why Buenos Aires? Let me count the reasons: My translator René Portas and my Argentine agent, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, live there. Agentina is a country that worships both the Beatles and literature. (René and Beatriz’s apartment is around the corner from where Jorge Luis Borges once lived.) I was born 12 hours after Eva Peron died, and have always felt a connection to her and the city. And as an extra added bonus, my friend Avi Avner was in town, acting as chief Mossad consultant for the film Operation Finale, about Adolf Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires, which is also a theme in my still unpublished book, Bobby in Naziland.

The media highlights of my stay in the Argentine capital include a live interview on Martín Aragón’s show, Eternamente Beatles (Beatles Forever), with Octavio Cavalli serving as my translator; an interview with Luis Kramer for his show, Cinefilia (think Terry Gross and NPR); and an extensive videotaped interview with Vanesa Preli of Radio Zonica that has yet to air.

There was more to come when I returned to New York: an excerpt of the book in Proceso, an article about it in Cultura Colectiva, and an episode titled “El misterio de John Lennon” (“The Mystery of John Lennon”), listened to more than 72,000 times, on Spanish journalist Iker Jiménez’s Internet radio show, Universo Iker.

Because I work for Vanity Fair in New York, my favorite bit of press was a humorously salacious piece, titled “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon” (“The Dark Sexual Secrets of John Lennon”), by Alejandro Mancilla, that ran in Vanity Fair Mexico. Inspired by a critique by Rodrigo Fresan, published in Pagina 12, in 2000, the article is, more or less, a survey of the sex scenes in Nowhere Man. Its most surreal touch is seeing my name in boldface alongside the likes of Louis C.K. and Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, baby, I've still got my mojo!

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A Taste of Publicity

Despite a lack of Harry Potter-like sales and the absence of my name on celebrity A-lists, I've still managed to publish two critically acclaimed books.

That's yesterday’s news.

In 2015, in order for me to get another deal, an agent must submit my book pre-reviewed and pre-publicized.

Recently, filmmaker Michael Nirenberg, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, asked if he could read my just-completed novel, Bobby in Naziland. The book is about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Nirenberg liked it enough to interview me for The Huffington Post. It’s Bobby in Naziland’s first taste of publicity.

Thus begins the long journey to publication. Glad you’re along for the ride. Read More 
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Some Days I Think About Word Counts

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea: 24,191 words

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's: 26,433 words

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 27,622 words

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: 28,770 words

Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays: 32,482 words

Albert Camus, The Stranger: 36,451 words (Translated from French to English by Stuart Gilbert)

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: 37,746 words

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day: 38,816 words

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John: 41,909 words

Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland: 44,527 words

Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?: 45,361 words

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: 45,499 words

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby: 47,104 words

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters: 47,739 words Read More 
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'Twas the Day After Christmas

I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)

So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.

Call me crazy.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner! Read More 
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The Eichmann Transition

New York Times article from May 25, 1960.
Mary Lyn Maiscott, aka the Mistress of Syntax, is an editor whose judgment I trust implicitly. (That's one reason I married her.) She edited my two previous books, Nowhere Man and Beaver Street. In both cases, when they were accepted for publication, the editors at the publishing houses barely changed a word.

Four months ago, having finally reached the point where I felt I could do no more on my own, I gave Mary Lyn the complete manuscript for Bobby in Naziland, a novel I'd been working on for more than five years and had shown to nobody. She has since read it and has been giving me feedback--specifically flagging passages that she thought could be clarified, tightened, or somehow improved. (I gave an example of this in a previous post.)

Though I’ve been making improvements, there’s one passage that’s been driving me crazy since 2009, and that I continue to struggle with. It’s the primary thing that stands between me and a finished book. I call it “The Eichmann Transition.”

The capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution, is a story that I knew as well as any story: In 1960, the Mossad kidnapped Eichmann off the street in Buenos Aires and spirited him back to Israel to stand trail for crimes against humanity. I drew on my memory of these events to write a chapter titled “Tales of Eichmann.”

But when I turned to the historical record to check the accuracy of my memory, I came upon a fantastic tale that had been declassified only a few years earlier, and that changed the very essence of the story. Though the Mossad had taken all the credit for capturing Eichmann, acting as if they’d learned of his whereabouts clairvoyantly, it so happens a former Dachau inmate who’d fled with his family to Argentina had tipped them off.

Once settled in his new country, the former inmate, Lothar Hermann, did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity, not even his teenage daughter Silvia knew about it. She was, in fact, so oblivious of her heritage that she began dating Eichmann’s rabidly anti-Semitic son Klaus, who used his real name and bragged to the Hermanns that his father was a high-ranking Gestapo officer.

The Hermanns, acting as spies, then confirmed Adolf Eichmann’s identity, at which point the Mossad took over.

This story, reduced to little more than a historical footnote, remains generally unknown to anybody who hadn’t researched the matter in the past few years. And it cried out to be included in Bobby in Naziland, a fictional memoir that in part explores the meaning of memory. But how to include it? The story of the Hermanns was not part of the narrator’s memory and its inclusion seemed to violate the narrative structure of the book.

And this is what I continue to struggle with—how to seamlessly transition from what the narrator remembers about Eichmann to what he couldn’t have possibly known, because nobody outside a select inner circle knew it.

Sometimes it feels as if Eichmann will be the death of me yet. But, I swear, with a little help from the Mistress of Syntax, I’ll nail the bastard sooner or later. Read More 
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In Denial

In the Adolf Eichmann chapter of Bobby in Naziland, the novel to which I'm currently applying some finishing touches, one of the things the Mistress of Syntax flagged was my reference to a bone-grinding machine used in death camps. She wanted to know if the machine had been built specifically for use in the camps. This was a good question, I thought, and turned to Google for an answer. The search terms I put in, as shown in the graphic, were: bone grinding machine Nazis. I was shocked and dismayed to see that the first three results were Holocaust denial sites. (In a search two days later, the denial sites placed two and four, and the order continues to change.)

One of the first things that popped into my head was the idea of a kid in grade school, who knows nothing about the Holocaust, being given an assignment to write a report about the Nazis. He goes to Google and the first thing he sees is that the Holocaust didn't happen, thereby handing a tremendous victory to the deniers.

I posted this on Facebook, and it led to a surprisingly large number of comments, notably from fellow Headpress writer Shade Rupe, who’s done a great deal of Holocaust research.

What I hadn’t mentioned on Facebook was that part of the inspiration for Bobby in Naziland was my own dealings with a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who’d read Nowhere Man, and in Internet postings that described me as a “Jewish writer,” said that I was the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who’d given the order to kill John Lennon. He also tried to goad me into an online debate about whether or not the Holocaust really happened.

In the book’s endnotes, I say of this (naturally) pseudonymous fellow, “That there are people like this lurking on the Internet should come as no surprise to anybody. That other people who call themselves journalists echo such theories in cyberspace and, on occasion, have published them in books, and in at least one legitimate newspaper, is an alarming truth that cannot be ignored.”

That’s just the way it is in the fact-free 21st century. Holocaust denial is spreading and Bobby in Naziland is, in part, my own small response to it, for whatever that may be worth.

And, yes, the bone-grinding machines were specifically built to grind human bones in Nazi death camps. Read More 
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Return of the Beaver

It's been nearly seven weeks since I last posted here, and the ninth day of the ninth month (see Nowhere Man) seems like an auspicious day to declare an end to summer hours. Regular readers of what used to be The Daily Beaver will notice the name change. I'm now calling this blog The Sporadic Beaver, which means that I'm no longer going to post Monday-Friday, but will make the effort to post at least once every week.

A lot has been going on since July 24:

· I’ve given the complete Bobby in Naziland manuscript to the Mistress of Syntax, who has read the entire thing. I’ve since been working on corrections and rewrites.

· The Beaver Street Kindle edition was re-released on Amazon U.S. and Canada, and last week it was the #1 “Hot New Release” in pop culture books in the U.S., and the #2 “Hot New Release” in art books, behind Gertrude Stein’s The World Is Round, in Canada. This is my first #1 anything in the U.S. since September 2000, when Nowhere Man was riding high on numerous bestseller lists.

· In other Amazon news, the secretive company has made the Kindle edition of Beaver Street unavailable in the U.K., telling me that they “don’t have the rights to sell it.” This is what Amazon U.S. told me last year about the print edition of the book—before the threat of a public protest against Amazon censorship persuaded them to make the book available. Perhaps the Brits will sort this one out, though they’ve given no indication that they’re capable of doing so.

· I’ve been kicking back in Machiasport, Maine; Saint Andrews, New Brunswick; and Greenacres, Florida, doing my best not to think about Amazon or any of the other routine aggravations that the publishing industry is so good at generating.

· Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been preparing for our next group reading on Tuesday, September 17, at 8:00 P.M., at the 2A bar in the East Village. The theme is politics, and I’ll be reading from the Lockhart Commission/Deep Throat/Watergate section of Beaver Street. Stay tuned for more info, and in the meantime, you can listen to Eric talk about Deep Throat on The Rialto ReportRead More 
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What About Me?

Robert Rosen prepares the audience for his reading from Bobby in Naziland. Photo © Cindy Rosen.
Having written about every Bloomsday on Beaver Street performer except for myself, it's probably time to say a few words about my own performance. Beyond noting that I know I've done better and I know I've done worse as a reader of my own work, I'm not going to get into a masochistic self-critique. But I will add that reading a piece of fiction as emotionally intimate as Bobby in Naziland was nerve-wracking--more nerve-wracking than reading from the so-called "dirty part" of Beaver Street, as I did at events last year.

It was, however, encouraging to hear laughter in the all the right places. And I took it as a positive sign when yesterday, one of my neighbors who came to the event stopped me in the street to say, as if she were surprised, "You really are a good writer."

In a lot of ways, Bloomsday on Beaver Street II was an experiment. It’s the first time I’ve ever organized an event with other readers, and it’s the first time I’ve ever worked directly with professional actors and a professional PR person. Which is to say that coordinating a show with 11 writers, actors, and musicians, all of whom are performing because they want to perform, is complicated and stressful, but ultimately rewarding. Again, I offer my humble thanks to everybody who participated.

It has also come to my attention that my aggressive promotion of the event surprised some people—especially those who know me, and regard me as a laid back kind of fellow. Having been on the receiving end of such promotions, I know how annoying this can be. But the promotion, too, was an experiment. I know that last year, despite the overflowing turnout, I didn’t promote the event aggressively enough. There were at least a half dozen people who told me that they would have come, but somehow got the date or the time wrong. I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen again. Hence, the constant stream of reminders, on Facebook and elsewhere. Event promotion is still new territory for me, and I’m simply trying to get it right.

And I will try again next year, for Bloomsday on Beaver Street III, which will commemorate the 100th anniversary of when James Joyce began writing that damn book, which he called UlyssesRead More 
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Sneak Preview

The narrator and his non-fictional mother, circa 1957. Any resemblance between them and characters in Bobby in Naziland is purely coincidental.
I know certain people, specifically members of my family and perhaps some high school and junior high school classmates, are coming to Bloomsday on Beaver Street II: Father's Day Edition to hear me read the opening pages of my just completed novel, Bobby In Naziland, which is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

For them, I offer a preview of my introductory remarks, subject to modification:

For those of you familiar with my work, this is a bit of a departure. For those of you not familiar with my work, this is one way to get acquainted.

A lot of people have been asking me, “What’s this thing you’ve been working on for five years?” This thing is called Bobby In Naziland, and as this is my first public reading from the book, I’ll answer that question in detail in The Prologue, which I’ll read tonight along with the opening pages of the first chapter.

But before I begin, I want to say that this is the kind of book that I should prepare my mother for before I publish it, as there’s a character in the novel that the narrator, who might resemble me in certain ways, but is not me, calls “my mother.” I know there are some people here who talk to my mother and are related to my mother—my real mother, not the character in the book. I ask them: What you hear on Beaver Street stays on Beaver Street. So, please, let’s just keep this among ourselves for now. Don’t squeal on me, I believe, is the correct terminology. Or at least the terminology that the narrator would use. Read More 
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An American in Copenhagen; A Dane in New York

Last night, for an infusion of inspiration, I went to a reading at 192 Books, a little gem of an independent store, about the size of my living room, in Chelsea. The event couldn't have been more different than what we have planned for Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, on Sunday.

The readers were Thomas E. Kennedy, an American novelist, originally from Queens, who's lived in Copenhagen for the past 30 years, and Naja Marie Aidt, a Danish writer, born in Greenland, who's lived in Brooklyn for the past five years.

While everything about Bloomsday cries “underground”—Porn Stars! Banned Books!—the sedate and respectful scene at 192 was more mainstream and literary establishment. Kennedy, probably best known for his Copenhagen Quartet, a series of novels set in that city, has published 27 books, and has been compared to James Joyce.

Aidt, whose novels, short stories, and poetry, are now being translated into English, was awarded what Kennedy described as “the Little Nobel,” the 2008 Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, for her novel Bavian, or Baboon, in English.

But the readings themselves, delivered to a crowd of about 30 people gathered around a table, were not sedate, and the availability of free Tuborg Danish beer, both light and dark, only enhanced the literary atmosphere.

Kennedy read from the opening pages his latest novel, Kerrigan in Copenhagen, a poetically rendered travelogue of a middle-aged writer’s efforts to “research” all 1,500 “serving houses,” or pubs, in the Danish capital, and he served up a good 20 minutes of irony, drinking, sex, and humor.

And though Aidt’s a short story, “Blackcurrant,” might have been a little on the sedate side, her poem, whose title I didn’t catch, contained a line about getting “fucked” against a wall, and held my attention throughout.

As Kennedy went to high school in Brooklyn, and Aidt now lives there, the readings were followed by a discussion about the enormous size and geographical complexity of New York’s trendiest borough. Aidt said that she’d like to get to know Brooklyn better, but no longer tries, because it’s too big and confusing. Kennedy then cited the Thomas Wolfe story, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” reading the last line, “It’d take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo. An’ even den, yuh wouldn’t know it all.”

The two writers both seemed like the sort of people who might enjoy what we have on tap for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. Kennedy, unfortunately, was leaving for Boston. But when I told Aidt that I’d be doing my first public reading of Bobby in Naziland, which is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s, she asked, “What neighborhood?”

“Flatbush,” I told her, and handed her an invitation.

We’ll see if the Danish poet ventures across the East River for a taste of the New York underground, and to hear about a time when Brooklyn was a provincial burb and a place to escape from. Read More 

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Novelist Praises Manual Typewriters; Ethicist Commits Federal Crime

Jonathan Lethem (left), interviewed by The Ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, at Bookexpo America.

The primary jolt of inspiration for Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm currently fine-tuning (and that I'll be reading from at Bloomsday on Beaver Street) came from Jonathan Lethem's 2003 novel, The Fortress of Solitude. A good portion of that book is set in what's now called the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, in the 1970s, about two miles from Flatbush, where I grew up ten years earlier.

As I read The Fortress of Solitude, I kept thinking that I should write a book about Flatbush, and bring that time and place back to life, just as Lethem had done in his book. This kind of inspiration is rare, and that's why I thanked Lethem when I saw him yesterday at the BEA.

New York Times Ethicist columnist (and pop-culture aficionado) Chuck Klosterman was interviewing Lethem, on the Downtown Author Stage, about his odyssey as a writer and his forthcoming “political” novel, set in Queens, Dissident Gardens, due out in September.

Lethem, who will be turning 50 in February—“I’m not big on birthdays,” he noted—talked about how, 30 years ago, he’d dropped out of Bennington College, in Vermont, and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where he’d written his first three novels on a manual typewriter. He preferred a manual, he said, because “metal letters striking paper” was like “sculpting;” you could “feel the imprint on the back of the page,” and you produced something real. He fondly recalled his days of using White-Out, and waiting for it to dry.

In the transition from typewriters to computers, the main thing that’s lost, Lethem believes, is the notion of a draft. He scoffed at the idea of his writing students telling him, “This is my third draft,” when all they’d done was edit their story on the computer screen.

“You have to read it on paper and retype the story; it’s the only way you can tell if it works,” Lethem said, explaining how he advises his students to print out their stories, erase it from the hard drive, empty the trash, and retype the entire thing.

Lethem, who does not consider himself prolific despite having written nine novels and a slew of nonfiction, also described the beginnings of his consciousness, and becoming aware of time, at age six, in Brooklyn, in 1970. “I knew about the moon landing,” he said, “but don’t remember it happening. I knew the Mets won World Series in 1969, but finished third in 1970.”

I told Lethem, as he was signing my copy of Dissident Gardens, that Beaver Street opens on Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, in 1961. I think I detected a sparkle of recognition in his eye.

***


Chuck Klosterman was also signing his latest book, I Wear the Black Hat, which is about villains, and as I was waiting to get my copy signed, the two girls on line in front of me handed Klosterman a five-dollar bill and asked him to autograph it, which he did.

“I don’t believe it,” I told him as I handed him my book. “The Ethicist is defacing currency.”

Klosterman’s nervous laughter indicated that he probably didn’t realize that he was breaking the law. But it now leaves me with an ethical dilemma: What do you do when you witness a New York Times ethics columnist commit a federal crime, specifically a violation of 18 USC § 333, mutilation of national bank obligations, punishable by fine and up to six months imprisonment? Should I have made a citizen’s arrest? Report him to the Secret Service? Or just forget about the whole thing, even though I’m aware that ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Or perhaps I should just write to The Ethicist and let him sort it out. I know he’ll do the right thing. Read More 

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The Writer's Dilemma

The main setting of Bobby in Naziland, East 17th Street, in Flatbush, as it looks today.
One of the things I'm going to do at Bloomsday on Beaver Street is read from Bobby in Naziland, the novel I'm in the process of fine-tuning. It's going to be a short reading, about 1600 words that will include the opening pages of the first chapter--just enough to give people a sense of the book's flavor and the voice I've used to portray "an adult consciousness channeling the thoughts and emotions of a seven year old," as I describe it in the prologue.

The book, I'm sure, will be of particular interest to anybody who's familiar with Flatbush, the Brooklyn neighborhood that Bobby in Naziland is set in, especially if they happened to have lived there in the 1950s and '60s, and think they might "know" some of the characters. And I'm sure that readers will derive a great deal of pleasure from my vision of a Brooklyn that no longer exists, a provincial burb filled with goyim and Jews, Auschwitz survivors and army veterans who fought the Nazis, a place where "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough."

What I’m not sure of is what I’m going to do with the book when I’m completely finished with it. The publishing industry, which never has functioned in a rational way, has changed so much in the past decade, that I don’t know if it makes sense to go with a traditional publisher (assuming I can find one) or to self-publish. The Internet is full of stories by and about authors, many of whom have successfully published with traditional publishers, who are now struggling with this same question. There are as many self-publishing success stories as there are stories of failure and unmitigated despair. For a writer like me, who’s had some success with traditional publishing but has not produced the blockbuster that publishers demand, there are no easy answers. The more I read, the more confused I get.

I can tell you this much: For the past two years I’ve worked as hard at promoting Beaver Street as I’ve ever worked at anything. I’ve gotten the consistently excellent reviews and the high profile mentions that theoretically sell books. But until I can get those Harry Potter-like sales, it’s unlikely that a traditional publisher will send a bushel (or even a cupful) of cash my way.

So, all I can do for now is spend this Memorial Day weekend putting the finishing touches on Bobby in Naziland, and banish from my mind all that other stuff. The correct answer to my question will present itself when it’s good and ready to do so. As it always does. Read More 
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The Nazi Connection


Max Bialystock, Franz Liebkind, and Leo Bloom in a scene from The Producers.


Of all the Jews in all the books in all of literature, why did Mel Brooks steal the name Leo Bloom from the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses for his nervous and corruptible accountant in The Producers?

Played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 film, and Matthew Broderick in the original cast of the 2001 Broadway musical, Leo Bloom, in the course of auditing scam-artist producer Max Bialystock’s books, realizes that more money can be made from producing a flop than producing a hit. And the super-flop that Bloom and Bialystock scheme to produce is a musical titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a deranged former-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars).

“I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce,” said Mel Brooks, “but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”

There’s more: Before taking on the role of Max Bialystock in the film, Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. And the film is full of Ulysses references. In one scene, Bloom asks Bialystock, “When will it be Bloom’s Day?” A calendar on the wall shows that it is Bloomsday—June 16.

I bring this up now because, though Ulysses seems to contain references to everything in the world, it contains no references to Nazis—the book predated Nazism. And since everything that will happen this June 16, at Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, will, in one way or another, be tied into the Ulysses theme, I thought that a direct connection to the title of my book, Bobby in Naziland, which I’ll read from for the first time in public that night, was lacking.

True, the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew, is a direct reference to Joyce, and I figured that that was good enough. But now I know that, thanks to The Producers and Mel Brooks, which are both referenced in Bobby in Naziland, I do have the Ulysses-Nazi connection that I longed for. Read More 
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Right Here on Our Stage…

…direct from Cleveland, Ohio, where he's just completed a critically acclaimed run as James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron in The Iceman Cometh, let's give it up for Paul Slimak!

Actually, it's not a stage, just an area on the floor at the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street, that we like to call a stage. But it is where all the Bloomsday on Beaver Street performances will be taking place, on Sunday, June 16, beginning at 7 P.M. And we have just received word that Slimak, whom you may know as degenerate Nazi fugitive Erich von Pauli from the Beaver Street videos (and whom I call "Henry Dorfman" in Beaver Street, the book) will be one of the performers.

Slimak and his wife, Agnes Herrmann, who plays Diana Clerkenwell in the Beaver Street videos (and whom you may have last seen in The Road, as Archer’s Woman), will perform a reading from Mr. Sensitivity, a play by our MC, Byron Nilsson, about a man who gives his wife a porn stud for her birthday. (Mr. Sensitivity was performed at the Fringe Festival in 2009.)

As a special bonus, Slimak, in the character of von Pauli, will introduce my first public reading of my novel, Bobby in Naziland: A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.

He has ways of making you listen. Read More 
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In Silence and Secrecy

My actual room is a little more cluttered, and I use a slightly more advanced writing machine.
This weekend, as I've been doing most weekends lately, I'm going to concentrate on fine-tuning Bobby in Naziland, the novel I began writing five years ago, and had not shown to anybody until last week. As I explained in an earlier post, I plan to read the opening pages at Bloomsday on Beaver Street next month, so it was time to show at least those pages to my editor (who happens to be my wife).

I suppose most writers (as well as most readers) find it peculiar that a writer would work in total silence and secrecy for five years, especially these days, when it's become increasingly common for writers to share works-in-progress online with readers who provide instant feedback.

This is the height of literary absurdity and the best of all possible ways for a writer to achieve a state of confusion. Book writing should be a solitary activity that takes place in a room of one’s own with a lock on the door (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf). And I’ve been doing this long enough that I trust my own editorial judgment.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t prefer to be working with an editor at an actual book publishing company who’s given me an advance so substantial, I could concentrate, to the exclusion of all else, on finishing Bobby in Naziland. But I’m not the kind of writer who gets advances, substantial or otherwise, on unfinished books. On the contrary, when I finish the book and begin submitting it, I think publishers will tell me, “Great read, but there’s not enough interest in Jews, goyim, Nazis, the Holocaust, UFOs, the Rosenbergs, or Brooklyn to justify publishing this.”

This is the kind of thing that publishers say reflexively to most writers about most books. It can’t be taken seriously. When I was struggling to publish Nowhere Man—a book that would be translated into a half-dozen languages and become a bestseller in five countries—I was told time and again, for 18 years, “There’s not enough interest in John Lennon.”

Which is one reason I waited five years before showing Bobby in Naziland to anybody, especially publishers. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a writer than to hear from a so-called voice of authority that your work-in-progress is unpublishable.

I also trust the judgment of my editor, and when she reads Bobby in Naziland in its entirety, I want her to read it with a fresh eye. So, I will continue to work in secrecy and silence. Read More 
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Reading Out Loud

I began working seriously on the novel I now call Bobby in Naziland in May 2008. I had little idea of what, exactly, I was writing. All I knew was that it was time to begin another book, and there was something about the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush, in the mid-20th century, that was worth exploring.

I'd touched on it in the opening pages of Beaver Street, the book I'd recently finished writing (though had not yet sold), describing the goings-on in my father's candy store, on Church Avenue, in 1961. Also, I'd just finished reading The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem, a novel that takes place in an adjacent Brooklyn neighborhood, about ten years later. It gave me ideas.

So, I began the agonizing process of figuring out what my new book was going to be, and I saw it evolve from hundreds of pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, and ideas, to a possible memoir, to the novel that it finally became, and that I think I’m now in the process of fine-tuning.

Over the past five years, I’ve shown what I’m working on to nobody, not even to my wife, the Mistress of Syntax, who’s also my editor. Because I read the book out loud as I’m working on it (I need to hear in my ear what it sounds like), and have spoken about it to people who’ve asked, my editor had some idea of the wide-ranging subject matter. But she’d never overheard more than a sentence or two at any one time, because I tend to work only when I’m alone.

With the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street looming, on June 16, I knew it was time to pick the selection I’m going to read that night, and to finally read it out loud to my editor. That’s what I did this weekend; I read to her the opening pages of chapter one, “The Goyim and the Jews.” I’m pleased to report that she laughed twice, and said, when I finished reading, “It’s good, but I thought it was going to be more solemn.”

Bobby in Naziland is not a solemn book. And if you think the Mistress of Syntax goes easy on me because I happen to be married to her, you’re sadly mistaken. Quite the opposite, actually. Her editing process is uncompromising, her demands for factual accuracy unrelenting, and the proof is in the quality of my previous two books. The Mistress of Syntax is not a title the wife wears lightly. Her “It’s good” is a five-star rave.

To say that Mary Lyn’s reaction filled me with a sense of profound relief would be a gross understatement. But if the pages passed muster with her, it gives me enough confidence to go forward and read Bobby in Naziland (along with a selction from Beaver Street) to a larger audience on Bloomsday.

I hope you’ll be there to listen. Read More 
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There Will Be Porn Stars

As this cruelest month winds down, I find myself thinking seriously about what, exactly, is going to happen, on June 16, at the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street event, at the Killarney Rose, in downtown Manhattan. Last year was easy. My book had recently been published in the U.S., and Bloomsday was a book launch party celebrating not only Beaver Street, but other literary works, like James Joyce's Ulysses, that had once been branded pornographic and banned.

This year, I'm expanding the theme to include other authors whose works lend themselves to what is actually being celebrated on June 16, the day that Ulysses takes place. On that day, in 1904, Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and to put it in the most explicit terms, she gave him an epic handjob.

This much is definite:

Eric Danville will be reading from his book The Complete Linda Lovelace, which he’s now revising, and will re-release in September to coincide with the release of Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as the deep-throat artist. I suspect that Danville will read, among other things, a zombie story he’s working on titled “Dead Throat.”

Lainie Speiser, author of many books about sex, will read from her latest work, Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars.

There will be porn stars present. Musicians will perform. Byron Nilsson will MC, read, and sing.

I will again be reading from Beaver Street, this time a historical (rather than a personal) passage. And I will also, for the first time in public, read from my novel-in-progress, Bobby in Naziland, for which I offer no apologies to James Joyce for the subtitle, “A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.” He would have understood.

Mark your calendars now, and stayed tuned for more news about additional performers. Read More 
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Our Bin Laden

Adolf Eichmann, the Bin Laden of an older generation.
I'm not going to get into a discussion here of Zero Dark Thirty, which I saw the other night. Suffice it to say, it held my attention and it's a film worth seeing. But it did put me in the mind of something that happened a half century ago, and that I'm currently writing about in Bobby in Naziland, a novel that might be described as a fictional work of historical nonfiction.

If you were born at a certain time, of a certain religion, and grew up in a place where an ungodly number of your neighbors were Auschwitz survivors, then you were aware of an ongoing manhunt for a certain war criminal. And the story of this manhunt was as galvanizing as the story told in Zero Dark Thirty. The difference between Adolf Eichmann and Osama bin Laden was that Eichmann, who organized "The Final Solution," was on the run for 15 years and was responsible for the deaths of six million people. I describe him in my book as "the swastika-spangled Gestapo monster lurking under my bed."

Bobby in Naziland is as much about how memory works and the accuracy of memory as it is about what the narrator remembers. And if there was one thing I remembered chapter and verse, it was the story of Eichmann’s final days, from his capture to his execution: kidnapped off the streets of Buenos Aires… brought back to Israel to stand trial… the man in the glass booth… “I was only following orders”… hung… cremated… ashes scattered.

But as I was writing this story, I realized there was something missing: How, exactly, did the Mossad find Eichmann?

That’s when I discovered that this information wasn’t made public until 2001: A blind refugee who did time in Dachau before the war and then fled to Argentina was the man who found Eichmann out. His name is Lothar Hermann, and he did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity that his daughter Sylvia, unaware that she was Jewish, began dating Eichmann’s son Klaus, who used his real name. Young Eichmann would come to the Hermann house, brag about his father being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and tell the Hermanns that the only mistake the Nazis made was not exterminating all the Jews. Lothar Hermann wrote a letter to the German authorities who, in turn, tipped off Israel. The Mossad took it from there, and four years after Hermann made his shocking discovery, the Israeli agents pulled off their famous kidnapping and took all the credit, too.

At least that’s the story in a nutshell. I’m still waiting to see the movie. Read More 
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American Riflemen

Yesterday, a reader, Debra Wheels, mentioned in her comment about my blog post, "America the Deranged," that maybe the best thing I can do about the insanity of as many as 300-million guns circulating in this country, and the National Rifle Association's advocacy of putting even more guns into circulation as a solution to the problem, is to continue writing about it.

Ms. Wheels may be pleased to hear that I am writing about it in the book I'm currently working on, Bobby in Naziland. Unbeknownst to me, as the slaughter was occurring in Newtown on Friday morning, I was editing a chapter that is, in part, about the NRA. That was what drew me to the organization's website and the website for its magazine, American Rifleman.

The Naziland chapter concerns two characters, military veterans trained in the use of firearms, who, in the aftermath of the Harlem and Watts riots of 1965, join the NRA. These characters believe that more rioting is imminent, and that the police aren’t up to the task of protecting them. So, they intend to take matters into their own hands, get some guns, and shoot anybody who attempts to loot and burn their homes or businesses. The likeminded NRA, through their magazine, encourages them to do so.

The chapter is primarily about fear and racism, two emotions that the NRA expertly exploits. But I was having a hard time coming up with a title for the chapter. Various plays on “The Right to Bear Arms” and “The Second Amendment” just weren’t working. That was when I took a look at the two NRA sites, and the title of their magazine jumped out at me. All I had to do was make it plural and I had the perfect chapter title: “American Riflemen.”

It was soon afterwards that I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the news. Read More 
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