by Nidra Poller
Tuvia Tenenbom, The Lies They Tell. Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2017
It takes a genius of a clown like Tuvia Tenenbom to piece together the American Tragedy in a drive-in tour de force that spans the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave from coast to coast, from north to south, from Alaska to Hawaii. Our roaming reporter and natural actor drops in on all kinds of folks, getting them to speak their minds, such as they are, and making us forget the vast empty spaces where nothing is worthy of mention and even the boredom is too flat and weary for words. Tuvia T., a man of theater, artfully creates the illusion of unity of time, space, and action out of thousands of kilometers of loose ends.
And that’s not all! In a six-month (was it only six months?) road trip in the USA, he finds enough people actually present in public places to converse with, however scantily, and fill 400 pages with notable quotes. Like an archeologist putting together a Greek urn out of a pile of broken bits, Tenenbom distills the essence of early 21st century America with bits and pieces of locations, characters, and dialogue. It is so funny to read. And so sad, once you’ve assimilated the whole journey.
The American tragedy is, by definition, the inextricable association of the best and the worst. The USA is an upstart nation founded by Europeans that fled their oppressive culture and established a glaring contradiction of their origins. From there, the nation is built in layers like a “mille feuille” (that they call a “napoleon”) of refugees and fortune hunters. Let it be called a melting pot (what a strange idea when you think of it) or a tossed salad, the only way it could work is, as Tenenbom writes, by forcing them to abandon their ancestral cultures… and get nothing in return. That’s the land of opportunity. So little to master. Just get the knack of things and fly.