Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"I Pity the Poor Immigrant"

Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the creative writing faculty at Tulane University.

Lazar applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, and reported the following:
I had an interesting experience with p. 69 of a previous novel of mine, Sway, which among other things is about the demonic undercurrents of the late 60’s counterculture. That book uses real-life figures to tell its story, one of whom eventually threatened to sue me. In a scathing letter, he made it clear that while he hadn’t bothered to read much of the book, he had turned randomly to a page that described a version of him—it was page 69—and that I had “one fucking nerve” to depict him in such a way.

Page 69 of  I Pity the Poor Immigrant is less incendiary. In fact, it is outright tame in juxtaposition with the verso page that faces it, p. 68, which consists of two photographs, one of the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in Jerusalem and one of his murdered friend Bugsy Siegel in Los Angeles. These photos illustrate a chain of violence in the book that connects the American and Israeli Mafias, the state of Israel itself, the violence of the European twentieth century, and, yes, even the biblical King David. It’s complicated. And p. 69 is one of those passages in the novel where I try to elucidate some of those complications. “A woman goes on a journey—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, then back to New York,” my protagonist Hannah Groff, a journalist, writes. She has no idea yet what is in store for her. What she finds on this journey isn’t pretty, and as the author who created her I am fully responsible for that, but as a figment of my imagination, Hannah Groff is at least in no position to sue.
Learn more about I Pity the Poor Immigrant at the Little, Brown and Company website.

The Page 69 Test: Sway.

Writers Read: Zachary Lazar.

--Marshal Zeringue