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Novelists are generally cautioned not to directly engage with the critics who give them a bad review—-it only encourages bad blood down the line, the thinking goes. Tova Reich, the Chevy Chase author of My Holocaust, has taken this advice: She’s indirectly engaged with a critic.
Responding to David Margolick‘s takedown of her book in the New York Times Book Review, she wrote a letter to the editor assuming the voice of one of My Holocaust‘s characters, Lipman Krakowski. The gist: Margolick didn’t get the satire. “For this I came to America?” Reich’s imaginary amanuensis writes. “To hear some little Jewish ayatollah boxer deliver a little Jewish fatwa against a writer, telling her what she can and cannot write because of how it looks to the goyim?”
Reich writes from Chevy Chase, while Krakowski writes from Wheaton. (Lesson: If you’re going to call in imaginary people for backup, make sure he’s on the same Metro line. Me, I have a seven-foot-tall, muscle-bound wingman named Spiro who lives in Rosslyn.) But Reich has some actual people taking her side. The Book Review‘s letters section includes a defense from a Washingtonian, Judith Plotz, and Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of Ohev Sholom—-The National Synagogue in Shepherd Park. Even though Reich’s salvo is considered bad form, it did bump My Holocaust higher up my nightstand pile. As Walter Kirn wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 2001, “Either books are worth fighting over or they’re not—-and if they’re not, why read them in the first place?”