Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Family ties, North End guys make for funny Jewish tale
MRS. Kaufman's goal in life is to have her battling sons, Dave and Mooney, reunited before she dies. And she's had a premonition about that.
If this guilt-tripping Jewish mother sounds familiar, so will many of the other characters in Michael Tregebov's irreverent second novel set in Jewish Winnipeg.
Tregebov was born here and graduated from the University of Manitoba. Since 1982, he has lived in Spain.
In The Shiva, Dave, the venal older brother, is a wealthy, if not terribly scrupulous, businessman, while Mooney, just released from a psychiatric ward, lives on welfare.
Dave is still jealous of the ease with which Mooney made friends in school, and his academic talent, and resents the fact that family life revolved around his brother.
For his part, Mooney envied Dave's business success, and dropped out of a PhD program to go into business for himself after Dave made his first million. But for Mooney, all business ventures were failures.
Just to get their mother off his back, Dave gives Mooney $50,000,
Against his brother's advice, Mooney promptly goes to see his buddies in the casino. Under the guidance of Dennis, a gifted rez Indian stock picker, they put together an investment syndicate.
The syndicate follows Dennis and his rallying cry, "Short the bastards," down the financial rabbit hole into the psychotropic world of short selling, where more is less and less is more.
The subprime mortgage crisis is about to hit in the U.S., and Dennis intends to clean up by riding the banks to the bottom of the market.
The members of the syndicate have a tough time wrapping their minds around the strategy of short selling, where they make their profit when the price of their stock goes down. This is against all the common sense of their considerable business experience. But it works.
Dennis, the only non-Jew in the plot, and a residential school survivor, uses his windfall to set up the Canadian Holocaust Museum Foundation, dedicated to the 100 million aboriginals he says were killed by Europeans.
In his view, the Holocaust -- in which six million Jews died -- was only one of many holocausts, and far from the biggest.
He also has a unique view of the Mideast. "Palestinians are the Indians and the Israelis are the Europeans who come to take their land."
Claims like those are bound to set a few teeth on edge. And there's lots more.
Tregebov knows where the hot buttons are in the Jewish community, and he doesn't hesitate to push them, just as he did in his first novel, The Briss, in 2009. There's something to offend everyone.
The story is set in a world where status and respect mean everything, and they come only from money. It's a world where bitchy gossip and backbiting are the norm, and the snub has been elevated to an art form.
Baba's chicken soup is about the only institution that escapes the author's cynicism. Maybe next time.
Tregebov develops his characters through their dialogue and he deftly captures the essence and spirit of the North End as if he were an unseen guest parroting the babble of the crowd waiting for their corned beef or salami sandwiches at Simon's now-defunct deli.
He keeps the dialogue taut, funny, strewn with non sequiturs, a smattering of Yiddish and fractured logic.
The diverse characters and storylines are finally woven together when a member of the investment syndicate is murdered and Dave offers the use of his house for the shiva, a weeklong period of ritual mourning in the Jewish faith.
Following publication of The Briss, some critics suggested that Tregebov might be the next Mordecai Richler.
He's good. He's funny. But he's not Richler. Both authors draw their inspiration from the same rich cultural clay of the Jewish community, but produce vastly different results.
Gordon Arnold recently retired as a Free Press copy editor.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 J8
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