Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Rave Review for "Julie Kogon"!

THEIR LIFE ALREADY, August 13, 2007
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England)
This is the saga of a downmarket Jewish family in New Haven, Connecticut, taking in four generations over a period from 1947 to 1989. Allen Ruff writes as an insider, but there is nothing even faintly mawkish or oy-oy about this story. The main points to make about this novel are first, it is a very good story indeed; and secondly, the author knows what he is talking about. There is the familiar disclaimer about resemblances to real persons, events etc being entirely coincidental, and while I don't dispute that in any way I can't believe either that the characters and incidents came from nowhere. It all has a ring of art imitating life about it.

Julie Kogon is apparently a debut novel, although Ruff is already a published historian. It does not read like any debutant's effort, and the author is the master of his craft from the start. The flashbacks in time are handled easily and naturally, and he has the confidence to feature dialogues with the deceased, including one right at the start, which is not a simple trick to take. The identity of Julie, long withheld from us, is a very clever surprise. Incidental episodes, such as meals or card-games, are skilfully inserted too, fitting into the narrative in a natural way without bringing it to a halt. The pacing is good, the dialogue is often very good indeed, and the characterisation is coherent and convincing.

Offhand I am not recalling any of the cast not being Jewish, but if there is any political or ethnic message to this story I think Ruff leaves it to us to form our own interpretation. This is a story, and it is a very involving and readable story. I sense the historian in the precise handling of details, but by `historian' I do not mean `chronicler'. It's true to life certainly, but it's fiction already. The writing is high-quality as well, fluent in the narrative and with an acute ear for idiom in the dialogue.

I was genuinely impressed, and just as genuinely entertained. Julie Kogon may be a hard act to follow, but if Allen Ruff is planning a future career as a novelist I for one am going to be looking out for what he offers us next.

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