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July/August 2011
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The Island of Not-Me, by Ezra Gerson Gotthelf (1935)

ALTHOUGH this Swiftian novel is cited in various genre checklists, it seems to have gone unread almost since its (presumably unique) publication. The book would probably remain unperused today, were it not for the curious fact that its author was that rarest of beasts, a rabbinical fabulist. While there have been many Jewish fabulists, fantasy-writing rabbis are encountered rather less frequently.

Small tidbits of information on the Web portray Rabbi Gotthelf as leading an active, unexceptional career—head of the Jewish Community Center of Duchess County; author of Spinoza and the Moreh Nebuchim—save for this one wild foray into satire (on many topics) and some predominant risque japery.

Our hero, Geoghan Willbe, a young fellow at loose ends, enrolls at the chief religious academy on the titular isle, where a civilization was created ex nihilo by seven founders on a utopian pattern. Geoghan soon learns that "the correlation between sex and religion is as close on the island…as anywhere else in the world.…" He crushes on the school's buxom secretary, Brynhilda, and almost beds his best friend's wife, stopping short only when memories of a previous bout with an STD recur to him. In general, Geoghan is a cross between Candide and Donleavy's Ginger Man.

His exploits are couched in mannered yet very readable prose (a toilet is "the sanctum of democracy"), owing as much to Cabell and Christopher Morley as to Swift.

Based on this amusing novel, Rabbi Gotthelf was more Krusty the Clown than Krusty's dad, Rabbi Krustofski.

—Paul Di Filippo

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