The Mighty Walzer

The Mighty Walzer

Book - 2000
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Random House, Inc.
Oliver Walzer is a natural at ping-pong. He can chop, flick, half-volley like a champion. At sex he is not a natural, but with tuition from Sheeny Waxman, his game improves. Unabashedly autobiographical, this is Howard Jacobson's masterpiece.

From the beginning Oliver Walzer is a natural - at ping-pong. At sex he is not so adept, but with tuition from Sheeny Waxman, fellow member of the Akiva Social Club Table Tennis Team and stalwart of the Kardomah coffee bar, his game improves.

Publisher: London : Vintage, 2000
ISBN: 9780099274728
Branch Call Number: FICTION JACOB...H
Characteristics: 387 pages ; 20 cm
Notes: Originally published: London : Jonathan Cape, 1999


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FindingJane Dec 29, 2015

The theme of ping-pong threads through this story. But, in its way, it is peripheral to the narrative, much the same way that cricket is peripheral to “Another Country”. What we get is the story of a young boy, growing up both bound to and afflicted by his people. Family, Judaism (or the repudiation of it), the old country or the neighborhood are inextricable from who and what Oliver Walzer is. Delightful or repugnant personalities in the way of his friends, enemies, opponents, family and in-laws lend this book its particular spice. Oliver is as much a product of his background as the Queen of England and no less subject to its unwritten laws.

But what really shines through in this novel is the exuberance of Mr. Jacobson’s language. Incisive and occasionally bewildering metaphors and similes pepper this book, describing people, places, clothing, accents and slang with astounding variety and inventiveness. Mr. Jacobson is clearly in love with idiom and he slams it with the same verve that the titular character swings his paddles.

Where the book proves irksome, however, is its copious use of Yiddish slang. If you’re not Jewish or have no experience with the jargon, much of the sentences and paragraphs will prove utterly baffling. You can worm out the general gist by reading the context. But precise meaning may elude you.

No matter. True bibliophiles will find themselves absorbed as Oliver Walzer wanders from childhood into old age and ruminates along the way about life’s little vicissitudes and his own ambivalent attitude toward success.


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