Book review: Coming Soon: The Flood

David Herman reviews this veteran writer’s new novel of fragmented darkness


Fame came late to Zvi Jagendorf. Born in Vienna in 1936, his family fled to England just before the War and he later moved to Jerusalem, where he became an academic, teaching theatre and English Literature at the Hebrew University. His breakthrough came in 2001. A small publisher brought out his first novel, Wolfy and the Strudelbakers, a delightful story of two Jewish families from Austria who come to Britain and how they try to fit in. It was a surprise hit and was longlisted for the Man Booker and shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. Now, almost 20 years later, comes his second novel, set in Jerusalem in 1961. Jerusalem is still a divided city, characters are reeling from the Holocaust, trying to rebuild shattered lives. It could hardly be more different from Wolfy. His first novel was light, charming, full of comic detail. Coming Soon: The Flood is darker, fragmented, more disturbing. One character, Rudi, has worked as a translator at the Nuremberg Trials. Eichmann is about to be tried. The chapter headings tell the story: “Broken Dolls”, “Ruin”, “God is Dead”.

The opening 70 pages are superb. Here, we meet Ada, dressed in black, smoking Gitanes, trying to make sense of her mysterious family, refugees from Vienna. Above all, she is helping prepare for the television coverage of the Eichmann Trial and is worrying about her broken dolls. Everything in the novel is broken, ruined, faded. There are fragments of different languages throughout, pieces of German, French, Spanish and Yiddish. There are “Faded chipped inscriptions in Arabic and Greek on bits of broken stone”. Elsewhere, a sign “in faded blue paint” proclaims barely readable, broken words “but it was hardly visible and behind the years of dust, the shop window seems to display nothing but random piles of wrapping paper…” It is as if T S Eliot’s Waste land had come to 1960s Jerusalem.

Then there is Ada’s fascinating family: her uncle Rudi, her aunt Perla and her mother Suzi, all damaged beyond repair by their experiences from the 1930s and ’40s. The novel moves back and forward in time and hints at dark, past mysteries. The cast of characters is intriguing: refugees from Vienna, Poland and Germany, all with their own moving stories, many living in abandoned or derelict apartments, precarious, trying to keep afloat.

One of them, Milo, wants to put on a production about Noah’s flood. The novel shifts from Ada’s family to Milo’s play and loses its power as a result.

Jagendorf should have followed the lesson of Wolfy and the Strudelbakers and kept his focus on the central family. In the end, this darker novel loses its early power but those early chapters are memorable, contemporary fiction at its best.

David Herman is a senior JC reviewer

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive