Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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GREENSTEIN/JEWISH PEGASUS
51
witz-Goldberg fable about Jewish fate and identity, bu t the horse
warns from the outset that unders tand ing “goes so far and no
fu r th e r ,” and “who’s to say wha t’s really the t ru th ? ” In
Malamud’s I-Thou relationship you have literally to get into
the o th e r’s skin before shedding it to become a free centaur.
The story is without beginning o r end: “go rem ember begin­
nings. My memory I have to fight to get an early remembrance
ou t of,” yet he hasn’t forgotten some Jewish history when he
compares his fate to Jo n a h ’s in the whale.
Questions d isturb Goldberg: “ask him a question and he ’s
o ff his track,” even as Abramowitz longs to get back on a race­
track. Considering his origins in a monologue reminiscent o f
Sholom Aleichem’s fiction, Abramowitz vaguely remembers two
strangers meeting, one asks the o the r a question, a battle ensues,
and one wakes up with a headache or wound in the neck. And
after this Jewish chivalry, “a strange dialogue where the answers
come first and the questions follow,” a circus act with tragicomic
reversals and inversions. Despite Goldberg’s insistence that the
“law is the law, you can’t change the o rd e r ,” Abramowitz’s ques­
tions (like Kafka’s parables o r Chagall’s carnivalesque fantasies)
do challenge authority, as Malamud’s fable unsettles “the logic
o f the situation.” “Once you start asking questions one leads
to the next and in the end it’s endless.” The “free cen tau r”
at the endless end o f the story canters into a wood as dark
as his own inne r being. After all the questioning horse talk
Abramowitz and Goldberg disappear, metamorphose into yet
o ther unseen roles o f dibbuk and golem, breaking up the vaude-
villian act, resisting the harsh rules o f na tu re and society.
I f Malamud’s cen tau r heads no rth he might tu rn up in Mon­
treal in Mordecai Richler’s
St. Urbain’s Horseman
; if south, he
might appear in Moacyr Scliar’s Brazilian
The Centaur in the Gar­
den.
Richler’s protagonist, Jake Hersh, is obsessed with taking
revenge on Dr. Jo se f Mengele, the Nazi war criminal. Jake keeps
a jou rna l documenting his invented Horseman, Cousin Joey,
a latter-day golem pu rsu ing the
Doktor
in Paraguay. His jou rna l
also contains a history o f literary allusions to Jews and horses,
the most famous belonging to Isaac Babel who wrote that when
a Jew gets on a horse he stops being a Jew. A similar statement
appears in one o f the epigraphs to
The Centaur in the Garden
where Scliar quotes Joseph Heller: “Since when do Jews ride
horses?” Jews may not ride horses bu t they do write about them,