The three novellas and the short story Bloodshed which comprise this book concern pursuit. Stanislav Lushinski, the protagonist of A Mercenary, is pursued by the Nazis in his boyhood and by his identity as a Jew in his maturity. In Bloodshed Bleilip pursues knowledge of the Hasidic tradition he is skeptical of, and in An Education Una Meyer, a naïve academic, searches for ideas and a lifestyle more exciting than a career in the Classics. The narrator-writer of Usurpation (Other People’s Stories) pursues the imaginative and voyeuristic appropriation of human behavior which the “magic crown” in the story represents, the storyteller must commit himself to, and the Jew’s abhorrence of the miraculous forbids.
Stanislav Lushinski seems a public and private success. Having survived as a Jew in Poland during, and in Russia after, World War II, he has become the citizen-ambassador of a recent African nation, an attractive mystery to the American TV public, and a sexual baron who maintains a mistress in New York, is said to have a boyfriend in Switzerland, and appropriates (as he has from the beginning of his stay there) any woman he fancies in his adopted country. His image emphasized by a lean physique and by a sure and ironic manner, he displays the cunning of the survivor, for little is unequivocably known about his past except that he survived it. He tells the story of Andor, the vicious dog he wounded into turning on its master and killing him, and the story of the uniform he had custom-made in Paris and with which he secured superb service in Germany. He lets it be known he has killed a man, but tells no one whom, not even his mistress Louisa. In collusion with the Prime Minister of the country he represents, he manages a local war which results in enhancing the national economy and his own position.
Despite Lushinski’s success and pragmatic illusiveness, however, he remains a haunted man. For though he insists he belongs to “mankind,” and even antagonizes the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Louisa, herself a parody of the Nazi in her aristocratic German blood and in her experience and mannerisms as a former executive of a chemical factory (in Germany she might well have manufactured poison gas, but in America she manufactured, ironically, cosmetics), discovers the terror in him for the Jew he is. The story requires this central fact of his being to serve as climax. It reminds us that no disguise, no matter how elegant, daring, or thorough, will save the Jew from his real name, just as their wealth and blond appearance could not save or conceal Lushinski’s parents from the human wolves who hunted them.
The story’s title signifies how peripheral Lushinski’s survival is to what he means, and the contrast to him the story provides in the character of Morris Ngambe, his diplomatic assistant, is how the novella dramatizes this point. Ngambe may be a parody of the Jew: he is stranded in New York, wounded by a dog like the one Lushinski escaped from in Poland, and wanders without a woman in a ghetto where the blacks are Christianized mutations of their African source. But while Ngambe may seem cut off from his own country while Lushinski luxuriates in its comforts, it is the latter who keeps a suitcase full of false passports ready at all times, and the former who has had a secure childhood, has been initiated into his tribe’s vision of manhood, and eucharistically possesses his mother who, like Lushinski’s, was murdered in the name of fanatic purism, but who, unlike Lushinski’s...
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