I Pity the Poor Immigrant

Little, Brown  2014


Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, deftly weaves history and fiction in his new novel.

Journalist Hannah Groff travels to Israel to investigate the murder of poet David Bellen. Over the course of her research, she learns about Meyer Lansky, the gangster who emi­grated from Poland to New York and helped to establish the American mob—and build Las Vegas. Facing a murder charge, Lansky sought asylum in Israel, but the government turned him down.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant crosses gen­erations as readers meet characters with interconnected histories. Hannah’s subject, the murdered poet, wrote a book compar­ing King David to a gangster; Lansky is a gangster. Hannah draws connections between Lansky, his mistress Gila Konig—a Holocaust survivor—and Hannah’s own family, leading her to uncover some unsavory aspects of the Groff legacy. The intricate story becomes a meditation on violence and power and their relationship to Jewish identity. The American mob, the Israeli mob, and Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians become part of a tale that travels between the spiritual home of Jerusalem and the fantasy world of Las Vegas with its recreated ancient monuments. The Book of Samuel meets The Godfather in a book with the title of a Bob Dylan song—and it all relates to modern Israel’s political situation. An excellent choice for book clubs, and a treat for any reader.

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