The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen

The sober royal-blue cover of the The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen suggests a straightforward historical account of the life and times of Israel’s nineth prime minister. 

The full title that appears on the title page of the 2022 Pulitzer prize-winning book is, The Netanyahus — An account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family. It is anything but a dry and factual homage to Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The ‘minor and ultimately even negligible episode in the history of [this] very famous family’ takes the form of a highly fictionalised and hilarious escapade, inspired by an account of an actual visit by the Netanyahu family to Cornell University in the late 1950s, as related to the author by aclaimed critic and Yale professor Harold Bloom. Benzion Netanyahu — Bibi’s father — was an academic whose field of study focused on Jewish history in Medieval Spain. He was also a committed and active member of the Revisionist movement. 

Like the non-fictional Bloom at the non-fictional Cornell University, the narrator of this story — the fictitious Ruben Blum — is an academic at the fictitious Corbin College in upstate New York. By virtue of their shared roots, Blum is assumed by his colleagues to be best qualified to host fellow Jewish academic, Benzion Netanyahu when he visits the college to interview for tenure. Benzion arrives mid-winter (and mid-novel) with his wife and three young sons in tow, and the five turn out to be the world’s worst house-guests. But before that, the first half of the book is spent in Ruben’s highly entertaining and ironic mind as he grapples with both the mundane and the profound implications that come with his identity as a middle-aged, middle-class Jewish-American intellectual, living in a small very un-Jewish university town. 

Joshua Cohen uses his exceptional way with words to build a raucous and entertaining read on the foundation of this true-life event, while deftly unpacking the complex identity politics that come with being a Jewish American (or American Jew). He offers a lense through which to gain insight into Benjamin Netanyahu the man, and politician, all while entertaining the reader with many laugh-out-loud moments. 

The Netanyahus can be borrowed from the Gitlin Library, or purchased at The Book Lounge.

• Published in the November 2022 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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