One notable exception is when Mischa meets with a missionary family with whom Martiya interacted during her life. The missionaries inquire about his religion and are pleased to learn that he is Jewish—after all, they consider the Jews “God’s chosen people.” Although he does not join their mealtime prayers, they respect him in a way they never respected the godless Martiya. While Mischa identifies readily as Jewish, he fails to back up his religion with any personal connection. It seems that the missionaries know far more about his faith than he does. Nowhere else in the story does he pray, acknowledge Jewish holidays, or even pass up a pork dinner. Ultimately, this is the most striking of the characters’dichotomies: Mischa doesn’t believe in much of anything, and Martiya believes far too much in everything. It is clear from Mischa’s—and his author’s—lack of interest in Judaism that he views Jewishness as his ethnicity and not his religion. However, mentioning Judaism and then letting it essentially disappear from the text does a great disservice to the book, as it could have been a perfect point of entry to Mischa’s inner life. It is never revealed whether Mischa actually believes in Judaism or whether he identifies that way because he simply can’t think of anything else to say. It would have been better to simply eliminate Judaism from the text entirely than to float the concept and then ignore it. While the book is well-constructed and an enjoyable read, it’s hard to get past the fact that the audience seems to barely know the man entrusted to lead them through the narrative. He remains an enigma, and ultimately, we know no more about him at the end of the book than we do at the beginning. It is a disappointing aspect of an otherwise engrossing book.
by lisa benjamin goodgame For Tasha Darsky, the beautiful protagonist of Yael Goldstein’s debut novel Overture, music is constantly a work in progress, even when it was written 300 years ago. Known as “the femme fatale of the violin,” Tasha becomes perhaps the best violinist since Paganini. But her professional success comes at the expense of personal struggles that eventually play themselves out on stage night after night—until a moment comes when it seems the sound and fury signify nothing. The daughter of prominent art dealers, Tasha grows up with a profound fear of failure, driven by an understanding that artistic creation is of the highest value. Ask Tasha Darsky what she wanted to be when she was seven, and she would have said “one of God’s Chosen…” In her mixed-up world of art, music, and fantasy, she’d “taken [her] parents’ pagan beauty-worship and confused it just enough with the Jewish heritage that [her] grandparents [had tried] to sneak into…bedtime stories,” so that “God’s Chosen” was a strange pantheon that included the great painters her parents loved, the avant-garde musicians they enjoyed, and the writers they knew—all of whom possessed an achievable immortality. Apparently, it didn’t matter if they were Jewish or not. As she imagines her complex definition of chosenness, Tasha asks herself, “[H]ow and when will I know whether I matter in the world, I wonder. What can I do to ensure that I do? What will happen to me if I don’t?” Her struggle is to define an identity and to create a life that matters. In the end, Tasha’s lament about chosenness is the singular element of Jewish thought in her life. Many other aspects of her life could have been shaped by her Jewish heritage—her immense fear of failure, her continued inability to please her father, and her desire to be “more” than her mother managed to be. Jews who read this novel will recognize a stereotypical family dynamic, but the characters are Jewish only in tangential ways. Tasha is a Jew whose religion is art, and whose Jewish identity is subordinated to everything else in her life. Her tenuous connections to her Jewish heritage come through her family and loved ones, and while left unsaid, it seems that she connects to her heritage through the history of Jewish violin virtuosos and the mournful, emotional evocation she draws out of the violin in her playing. Lilit Marcus is the co-founder and Editor-in-
Overture: A Novel
Chief of www.savetheassistants.com, “a blog
by Yael Goldstein
for the beleaguered.” She lives, writes, and
304 pp, Doubleday, 2007
does yoga in Brooklyn, New York.
Lisa Benjamin Goodgame is a Jewish communal professional in Austin, Texas. She is the former co-chair of the Austin Jewish Book Fair.
issue four 2008
PresenTense 4 brings Social back