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Second Hand Smoke: A Novel by Thane…
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Second Hand Smoke: A Novel (1999)

by Thane Rosenbaum

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This fascinating book is about Duncan Katz, the son of Holocaust survivors, and the impact of his parents horrific experiences on his own life. It especially deals with Duncan’s relationship with his mother, Mila Katz, a Miami card shark and gangster, victimized by the Nazis and guilt-ridden over the abandonment of her other son, Isaac, in Poland when he was an infant. Mila blew “second-hand smoke” into the lungs of her children, the smoke being that which came from the chimneys of Auschwitz.

Mr. Rosenbaum has a very unique writing style. Poetic, surreal and at times a bit complicated, the author creates a world where not all Jews where stereotyped as “nice Jewish boys”; where characters such as Mila, Duncan and even Isaac are larger-than-life but fascinating. A very satisfying ending!

I feel that Thane Rosenbaum’s story is very important, especially as we are losing many Holocaust survivors to old age. As those with the numbers tattooed on their arms pass on, we need someone to continually remind the world of the atrocities inflicted by Adolph Hitler and how it still effects current generations. Thane Rosenbaum has done that job in SECOND HAND SMOKE quite effectively! ( )
  KindleKapers | Jan 21, 2011 |
A story of the impact of the Holocaust on the lives of the next generation - the children of survivors. Duncan Katz is born of Auschwitz survivors who fled to America but continued to live the trauma of their harrowing experience in their daily lives, passing on the burden of their tortured psyches to the next generation. The mother, Mila, is the driving character --- shrewd, tough, ruthless, her main obsession is to exact vengeance for the past by rearing the new "hero" who will destroy steorotype of weak, timid Jews. Duncan was never a child in the normal sense -- his mother drove him to excel in everything, imposing a strict military discipline and a rigid schedule with no room for fun, play, or friends. The world is a jungle to be survived, everybody is an enemy. Outwardly, he becomes the "perfect" man, but he is destroyed, hollow inside. He has turned out to be a robot, incapable of feelings other than revenge, hate, a bully, unable to sustain any relationship, including even with his mother. He becomes a federal prosecutor and a top Nazi-hunter. He breaks from his family, starts his own, discovers some secrets, travels to Poland and attempts an interpretation of justice Duncan-style, and so on...

The novel is well-intentioned, it draws us to the battle inside individuals who grew up in such families who have to live with their demons the rest of their lives, and to carry this burden. But the novel reads too much like the script of a commercial movie --- it sensationalizes everything so that it becomes an odd mix of suspense, crime thriller (Mila is a card shark and a gangster, a leader even of the Jewish Mafia), melodrama (Mila with cancer, reunion with a "secret" brother), and other stuff too "fantastical." I regret reading something on such a dreadful and serious subject, written in a way which "cheapens" it. Perhaps this appeals to those who like hollywood hero type movies with a bit of "historical" element thrown into it (this was highly starred in Amazon, but i should have known better). ( )
  deebee1 | Nov 2, 2009 |
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Epigraph
For how much longer can I howl into this wind? -Robert Smith, The Cure
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In memory of Sam Rosenbaum, a true patriot in the service of memory. Ans for Basia Tess Rosenbaum, with faith and soul.
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He was a child of trauma.
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Book description
In the seamy atmosphere fo Miami Beach's Collins Avenue, Mila Katz, a streaky card shark and confidante of mobsters, lives by the wits with which she survived the Holocaust. Second Hand Smoke is the story of Mila's sons, Isaac and Duncan, the one secretly abandoned in Poland, and the other, American-born, raised as an avenging Nazi hunter, poisoned with rage. Told in bursts of fractured realism and dark comedy, Second Hand Smoke is a postmodern mystery of great lyrical power, deep insight, and emotional resonance. (0-312-25418-0)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312254180, Paperback)

It is obvious from practically the first page of Second Hand Smoke that Thane Rosenbaum has not written a typical Holocaust novel. Consider, for example, the name of his protagonist: Duncan Katz. "What kind of a name is that for a Jewish boy?" an old man attending Duncan's circumcision ceremony in post-World War II Miami demands. "One thing is for sure: the boy's name isn't a mistake. These people are trying to tell us something."

"These people" are Yankee and Mila Katz, survivors of the Nazi extermination camps and Duncan's parents. In giving their son the name of a Scottish king on the day of this ceremony, they are both acknowledging his identity as a Jew and attempting to disguise it. Though living in America now, their world view has been shaped by their experiences in the camps; secrecy is the key to survival, and even at a young age Duncan understands that "he may have been born into the family but he was never accepted into its inner circle. Maybe it was for his own protection, his own good. Or, as Mila so often claimed, "maybe they just didn't trust him." So infected is the son by his parents' Holocaust experience that he grows up to become a Nazi-hunter and eventually loses both his job and his family in pursuit of vengeance. Then Mila dies and Duncan discovers her darkest secret: the son she left behind in Poland.

Second Hand Smoke often reads like a thriller--Duncan's early life is marked by his mother's association with Miami mobsters, and the time spent in Poland looking for his long-lost brother is pretty action packed--but there's a strong element of spirituality that runs through it, too, especially when Duncan meets his yoga-master brother, Isaac. Rosenbaum gets off to a terrific start but stumbles near the end, bestowing reconciliation too easily, wrapping up his characters' messy lives too neatly. Still, his acute rendering of the peculiar psychology of concentration-camp survivors and their children rings powerful and true. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:30 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The smoke that once hovered over the concentration camps of Poland never left this world. It followed the survivors of the Holocaust wherever they went, and then settled in the lungs of their children. In the seamy atmosphere of Miami Beach's Collins Avenue, Mila Katz, a streaky card shark and confidante of mobsters, lives by the wits with which she survived the Holocaust. The secret about her son, Isaac Borowski, whom she abandoned in Poland, remains buried until it is slowly revealed in a series of deathbed confessions to her nurses.But there is another son, Duncan Katz, born in America and raised as an avenging vigilante, a Jewish fighting machine, a prisoner of inherited rage who becomes a Nazi-hunter, driven by the crimes committed against his parents. He loses his job with the government when he hatches a case against a former concentration camp guard, Feodor Malyshko. And he loses his family when his wife leaved him in order to shield their daughter from the Katz legacy of pain and unmourned loss. Duncan is exiled to New York City, where he stalks Malyshko and enacts the family's tragedy in another generation. Through his godfather, mafia chieftain Larry Breibart, Duncan learns of his half-brother, Isaac, a yoga master, healer, and messianic figure in Jewless Poland. Duncan decides to travel to Poland and find his brother. Together they retrace the family's derailed path, walking among the ghosts of the holocaust, confronting real and imaginary demons.… (more)

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