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Second Hand Smoke: A Novel (1999)
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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)
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.
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