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Book Bag: “The Right Thing To Do At The Time’ by Dov Zeller; ‘Printed in Beirut’ by Jabbour Douaihy

Published: 8/23/2018 4:49:29 PM

by STEVE PFARRER

THE RIGHT THING TO DO AT THE TIME

by Dov Zeller

Tiny Golem Press

tinygolempress.com

​​​​​​​Cross “Pride and Prejudice” with “Fiddler on the Roof,” move the plot to today’s New York City, throw in a Jewish trans guy as a main character, add various comedic moments and you have a recipe for “The Right Thing To Do At The Time,” a new novel by Valley author Dov Zeller.

Zeller, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA program in writing, has substituted the somewhat hapless Ari Wexler for Austen’s Lizzy Bennett, the beloved heroine of “Pride and Prejudice.” Ari has some things in common with Lizzy — his college professor  mother is as sarcastic as Lizzy’s father is in “Pride and Prejudice,” for instance — but he’s considerably more frazzled than the determined and spirited Lizzy, who insists on marrying for love and not economic security.

Ari, a violinist who lacks confidence in his musical ability, has a job as a clerk at a music library that may soon be ending. And his love life is a mess, in part because he’s confused about what he wants: “He was allergic to [love], though, as is often the case, he found himself, therefore, craving it.”

His family responds to his gender issues by calling him a “noodle,” his father tries and fails to match him up with women, and his “Bubbie Pearl” — his grandmother — calls him not just an “everyday noodle” but an overcooked one.

Ari’s main solace in his life is his best friend, Itche Mattes. But when a famous actress comes to the city and sweeps Itche off his feet, Ari is even more at a loss.

Ari may have one chance at redemption when a unique music project falls into his lap. But he has to make a crucial choice: either stay in his stifling but safe comfort zone, or take a risk that could bring real joy and, yes, love to his life.

One reviewer calls “The Right Thing To Do At The Time” a comic tribute to Jewish life and the struggles of gender identity that also does a fine job of invoking the sharp commentary of “Pride and Prejudice.”

“Instead of balls and dinners, the characters cross paths at bar mitzvahs and seders, but the romance, the humiliation of tactless family members, and the biting observations of social types remain from Austen’s original…. Like Austen or Mendele, Zeller brings his characters to a pleasant conclusion in which love conquers misunderstandings and parental meddling alike.”

 

PRINTED IN BEIRUT

By Jabbour Douaihy

Translated by Paula Haydar

Interlink Books

interlinkbooks.com

“Printed in Beirut,” by the noted Lebanese writer Jabbour Douaily, is both an interesting portrait of modern-day Lebanon and a sendup of the publishing world — from the vagaries of self-publishing to the cynicism  and money-making focus of the industry as a whole.

Farid Abu Shaar is a somewhat dreamy writer who carries around a handwritten manuscript in a red notebook to various Beirut publishers. He’s turned down by all of them, including one who mistakes his work for poetry and tells him the company quit publishing poetry years ago.

This isn’t poetry, Farid protests. “We quit publishing prose, too!” the publisher tells him.

The dejected Farid is, however, offered a job at one publishing firm, Karam Bros., which needs an Arabic-language copyeditor. Farid needs the money and takes the position, though the work — editing pharmaceutical pamphlets, catalogs and the like — bores him.

One day his red notebook disappears, only to reappear in print on beautiful paper. The source of this mysterious project? Persephone, the wife of the publisher, who’s bored with her husband and very attracted to the young writer.

What’s more, the book has been printed on the same paper used to manufacture counterfeit 20-Euro bills — and soon the police are questioning Farid and others on just what kind of business is really going on at Karam Bros.

Weaving between the past and present of Beirut and the lives of its characters, “Printed in Beirut,” by Interlink Books of Northampton, offers a skewering of Lebanese society, a comic take on a typical thriller, and a tribute to the vanishing history of book making in Beirut.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

 

 

 

 




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