Man Out of Time
Discussing ‘The Frozen Rabbi’ with author Steve Stern, who’s stuck in the Jewish past
Illustration by Paul Rogers
Novelist Steve Stern wasn’t raised in a traditional Jewish home—indeed, he says, his childhood in Memphis was virtually devoid of “heritage.” But he has made up for that as an adult, delving deeply into Jewish history, fiction, liturgy, and mysticism in his work. All of that comes into play in The Frozen Rabbi, his ninth work of fiction, which Tablet Magazine begins serializing today. The story begins in the basement of one Bernie Karp, a pimply and spiritually bereft teen who, intent on pleasuring himself in the liver-aided manner of Alexander Portnoy, gets distracted when he discovers at the back of the meat freezer a 19th-century rabbi from the Pale of Settlement. From there, we are transported between the past and the present, along the way encountering shtetl kabbalists, Lodz peddlers, Lower East Side gangsters, New Age hucksters, and more. Stern spoke to Vox Tablet about Charles Dickens and Isaac Bashevis Singer, libel suits, and how he came to write this comic-tragic tale of modern European Jewry. The Frozen Rabbi will be published in May.
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