Peter Stephan Jungk translated from the German by David Dollenmayer

Crossing the Hudson

Publication Date: Mar 10, 2009

232 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590512753


List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590513682

Gustav Rubin, a fur dealer in Vienna, flies to New York to spend the summer with his wife and two young children in a lake house north of the city. When he arrives late at JFK, he is met by his opinionated, unrelenting mother, Rosa. They rent a car and set out for Lake Gilead. But Gustav loses his way, and son and mother end up on the wrong side of the river. Trying to find the right route north, they become trapped on the Tappan Zee Bridge in the traffic jam of all traffic jams– a truck transporting toxic chemicals has turned over–and Gustav and Mother remain gridlocked high above the Hudson River. Gustav begins to think of his beloved father, a renowned intellectual, now eleven months dead. Then, in a surprising, highly original twist worthy of Kafka, both Gustav and Mother see the body–”the colossal, golem-like fatherbody”– of Ludwig David Rubin floating naked in the waters below.

Jungk gives a profound meditation on a Jewish family and its past, especially the lasting distorting effects on a son of a famous, vital father and a clinging, overwhelming mother, and of the differences between the generation of European intellectual refugees who arrived in the United States during the Second World War and the children of that generation.

Excerpt from Crossing the Hudson

“So, I’ll be there by four, four-thirty at the latest. When does Shabbat begin? When? And lighting the candles? 8:03? All right, 8:03. Wait a sec, Mama wants to talk to you.” He handed her the phone.

“You and your Shabbat. My son an Orthodox Jew, I still can’t believe it. Sorry, what? I already told him he shouldn’t use the phone while he’s driving. What? He looks awful. Like someone spit him out. And he rented the most ghastly car you can imagine. A pimp’s car. No, I won’t fight with him. How are the children? Amadée’s swimming? And no one’s lifeguarding him? What’s Julia up to? You’re down by the dock? Well that’s good.”

When the call was over, she looked sideways at her son, reproachfully. “The cell phone stays with me from now on. You’re completely wound up! And what’s ‘lighting the candles’ supposed to mean?”

“You were already at our house once for that, Mother. It’s when we light the candles for Shabbat, the moment that separates the previous week from the day of rest. Madeleine lights the candles, then she spreads out her arms above them and draws them in three times in a circular motion to show that she embraces the sanctity of the Shabbat. Then she puts her hands over her eyes and says the blessing. Do you remember now?”

“My son an Orthodox Jew! Unfathomable . . .”

ForeWord Magazine

“The details in Crossing the Hudson [give] this novel about the troubled generations of a post-War Jewish family a verisimilitude that draws readers in…Jungk’s telling of the story is irresistible.”

The Jewish Week

“[The characters] are suspended between Europe and America, a Jewish family’s past and present, in this novel that features a Kafka-like event on the Tappan Zee Bridge.”

The National Jewish Post and Opinion

“Brilliantly blending reality and fantasy, Peter Stephan Jungk has written an intriguing novel…set forth with great wit and skill."

Kirkus Reviews

“A stirring meditation on family, faith and intellect… Jungk’s beautiful, uncanny work breaks new ground in stories about fathers and sons.”

Publishers Weekly

“Pleasantly bizarre… [a]n unusual and inventive work…refreshingly strange…”

Times Literary Supplement

"Modern Jewish fiction has generally preferred to depict the Oedipal struggle. A strange, durable love – not Roth’s sublimated hatred, not Kafka’s fear – reigns in Crossing the Hudson…[a] journey taken far too infrequently by Jungk’s literary predecessors."

The Star Tribune

“Jungk’s beautiful, surpassingly strange novel deals with emotions and faith…a treatment of father-son relationships that’s both deeply intimate and deeply intellectual.”

Salonica World Lit

"[A] great work in translation."

1. Ludwig Rubin says that he, his wife, and their son Gustav are “Siamese triplets, attached at the head and the genitals. And behind us, the dead.” (Page 98) Ludwig says they are different from others because they have no other family and both he and his wife feel embarrassed and ashamed to be alive, after much of their family died during World War II. Do you believe this justifies the smothering nature of their relationship?

2. Water repeats in Crossing the Hudson – the family baths, the beloved game played by father and son of throwing something in a stream and watching its journey. How does the bizarre fatherbody floating in the Hudson fit into this motif? Does it make psychological sense?

3. Gustav’s mother seems to take a sadistic satisfaction in putting down her son in every way, pretending not to recognize him as her son once when he was a child and giggling as she lists what she sees as his unattractive physical qualities. Do you think Gustav’s intense attachment to such a mother is masochistic? Do you think they love each other? What is the nature of their love?

4. The theme of the bridge goes throughout Crossing the Hudson, from the grandfather’s fear of crossing bridges, to Gustav’s love of bridges and his role as a bridge between his parents, the improvised lecture on the history of the bridges, the pilot’s feelings about the Tappan Zee. What are the varied meanings of the bridge in Crossing the Hudson?

5. Jewish guilt has famously been seen in a positive way as a strong sense of responsibility for others and the world and in a negative, if humorous way, as neurotic self-absorption. How do you think guilt of this kind and others plays out in the Rubin family?

6. How do you perceive Gustav’s choice to become an orthodox Jew? What might have been his motivations?

7. How do the eccentric characters they meet on the bridge provide comic relief, and serve as a counterpoint to Gustav’s mother?

8. How do Ludwig and his wife’s descriptions of their marriage differ? Gustav’s mother insists that no one had a marriage like theirs, certainly not Gustav and his wife. Do you think Gustav had a chance to have a successful marriage? Do you think he played a role in keeping his parents together?

9. Ludwig is horrified at his son’s choice of commerce over academic life, and lists what he considers to be the terrible professional choices of the children of numerous famous intellectual European émigrés. Ludwig states, “No one knows about this, but Jean Amery’s illegitimate daughter became a pedicurist. No wonder he committed suicide.” (Page 36) What do you think about the abyss in values between these generations?

10. Gustav says, “Whoever hasn’t slugged it out with his father, whoever has failed to defend himself will feel weak, incomplete, unmanly the rest of his life.” (Page 140) Do you think a son must rebel against his father to become a man?

11. Why is the airline pilot so extremely captivating to both Gustav and his usually very critical mother? How do she and her mother contrast to the two of them?

12. Do you think Gustav will be able to leave his father (and his mother) psychologically and save his life? How does the last image of his breaking away from his father strike you? What do you make of the last line of the book?

13. Do you find Crossing the Hudson comic? Which aspects of it were particularly amusing? What other tones make up the novel?