Publication Date: Apr 17, 2006
List Price US $15.95
List Price US $15.95
When the tragic death of his son compels Dr. Neil Downs to flee New York City for India, he takes a job as the resident physician at the American Embassy, where he is introduced to the paradoxes of Indian social and political life. Unable to mourn, and angry about a betrayal on the part of his wife, Sarah, Neil seeks philosophical refuge in the writings of Levi Furstenblum, whose work grapples with the nature of language and god after Auschwitz. At the same time, he becomes involved with a prestigious Indian family and forms a bond with Holika, the rebellious, activist niece of the family’s industrial and political doyen. With this relationship, Neil discovers the intrigues and the horrors that plague a society not dissimilar to the one he left behind. Through a complex interplay between the external and internal, foreign and domestic, the promises of faith and the ineluctability of evil, Neil slowly unravels the lies and misrepresentations that had woven the texture of his life.
This tightly plotted novel will be irresistible to anyone who yearns for affirmation in spirituality and matters of the heart. A stunning reinterpretation of the Abraham and Isaac sacrifice myth, And the Word Was is guaranteed to leave readers profoundly moved.
Excerpt from And the Word Was
I LIVED ALONE. In New Delhi. Before moving there, I lived my whole life, thirty-nine years, in New York City. Please, no Second Avenue New Deli Borsht-Belt and famed, Holy Cow bagel chip jokes. I’ve heard them all.
I did not choose Delhi because I was a Pepsi-Generation hippie turned dyspepsia generation yuppie, who long ago got stoned and laid to the ragas of Ravi Shankar and yearned for the gloried conquests of youth; no, his music bored me into stupefaction; I did not choose Delhi because I was a midlife-crisis New Ager with a self-indulgent belief that I’d find a drivethru guru who would instantly end my emptiness and infuse me with internal peace; no, because I must’ve set a record when I was, ever so politely, asked by the enlightened Desiree Prana (born Rene Kerstein of Roslyn, Long Island) never to come back to her yoga class because I disruptively murmured “shit” and “fuck” every time I couldn’t contort my body into Gumbyesque position; I did not choose Delhi because I craved Indian food and hung out in the dingy restaurants on East 6th Street; nope, because even the odor of curry upset my delicate digestive system. I did not choose Delhi because I was infatuated by the literature, the art, or the movies; I knew almost nothing of the Indian arts. I did not choose India because I wanted to conquer the languages of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, or any of the hundreds of other languages and dialects spoken by over one billion people; no, I wanted to be deaf to the world around me. I did not choose Delhi because of my lustful desire to experiment with the innumerable sexual entanglements of the Kama Sutra; I almost never expected to have sex again after I left New York. Nor did I choose Delhi because of my mystical belief in the reincarnations of Hinduism.
“Bauman’s first novel is a magnificent debut, smart and intense, but accessible and riveting….This is simply a great novel, and hopefully only the first in what will be many more from the author.” —Booklist
“[And the Word Was] is utterly absorbing, a page-turner in the most literal sense of the phrase. Seamlessly structured, it is at once intellectually ambitious and emotionally alive. Bruce Bauman is one of the most engaging and engaged writers and thinkers that I know.” —Rebecca Goldstein, author of The Mind-Body Problem
“This book in its entirety is deelpy moving, sophisticated, intricate, elegant, with a neatly woven narrative and powerful culminations. It is a loving, sensitive novel, which asks many hard questions about life and faith.” —Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance: A Novel
1. And The Word Was deals with a number of profound ethical issues, One of the major questions is how to believe in God after the senseless violent death of a child. Bauman connects this to the question of faith after the Holocaust. How does he confront these questions and what kind of answers do you think he gives?
2. The character of Levi Furstenblum is portrayed as a complex, bilious, brutally honest man. His writings challenge and provoke. He tells Neil:”People like you don’t want to believe that I wasn’t a sweet-souled mensch before Auschwitz, or a nice boychick after.” What do you think about this unidealized portrayal of a Holocaust victim? What role does he play in the story?
3. A more general question to ask is whether the Holocaust should be fictionalized. Author Bruce Bauman says that Adorno’s famous line that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz has always stirred him. His answer is that “there has always been mass evil, so there has to be poetry.” How would you interpret these remarks?
4. Questions of loyalty and trust abound in And The Word Was. Neil Downs struggles with his love for his wife and his torment over her disloyalty. Do you think she was disloyal to him? Was he disloyal to her? Charlie Bedrosian seems to be very loyal to Neil. Holika seems to be disloyal to her fiance and family. What do you think the author is saying through the depiction of these complicated relationships?
5. And The Word Was is also a political book. What does the author say about the media? The political and economic context of life in India?
6. Neil takes flight from his guilt over not being able to save his son and his anguish over his wife’s infidelity. What do you think of this action? Does it serve the purpose of relieving his feelings? Does it provide a way to find meaning after his life is shattered?
7. How do Neil and his wife find their way back to each other? How do you think their relationship changes and do you think it will survive? What does it say about the possibilities for forgiveness? What does it say about living with the pain of the death of a child and overcoming survivor guilt?
8. Do you see resolution or hope at the end of the book? Do you think that Neil has found any answers?
9. Author Bruce Bauman draws from The Bible, Indian myths, and Greek mythology in his novel. Do you find this effective in making the book resonate with universal themes? How has he transformed them?