In the seamy atmosphere of Miami Beach's Collins Avenue, Mila Katz, a streaky card shark and confidante of mobsters, lives by the wits with which she has survived the Holocaust. Second Hand Smoke is the story of Mila's sons, Issac and Duncan, the one secretly abandoned in Poland, and the other, American-born, raised as an avenging Nazi hunter, poisoned with rage.
Told in bursts of fractured realism and dark comedy, Second Hand Smoke is a postmodern mystery of great lyrical power, deep insight, and emotional resonance.
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It is obvious from practically the first page of Second Hand Smoke that Thane Rosenbaum has not written a typical Holocaust novel. Consider, for example, the name of his protagonist: Duncan Katz. "What kind of a name is that for a Jewish boy?" an old man attending Duncan's circumcision ceremony in post-World War II Miami demands. "One thing is for sure: the boy's name isn't a mistake. These people are trying to tell us something."
"These people" are Yankee and Mila Katz, survivors of the Nazi extermination camps and Duncan's parents. In giving their son the name of a Scottish king on the day of this ceremony, they are both acknowledging his identity as a Jew and attempting to disguise it. Though living in America now, their world view has been shaped by their experiences in the camps; secrecy is the key to survival, and even at a young age Duncan understands that "he may have been born into the family but he was never accepted into its inner circle. Maybe it was for his own protection, his own good. Or, as Mila so often claimed, "maybe they just didn't trust him." So infected is the son by his parents' Holocaust experience that he grows up to become a Nazi-hunter and eventually loses both his job and his family in pursuit of vengeance. Then Mila dies and Duncan discovers her darkest secret: the son she left behind in Poland.
Second Hand Smoke often reads like a thriller--Duncan's early life is marked by his mother's association with Miami mobsters, and the time spent in Poland looking for his long-lost brother is pretty action packed--but there's a strong element of spirituality that runs through it, too, especially when Duncan meets his yoga-master brother, Isaac. Rosenbaum gets off to a terrific start but stumbles near the end, bestowing reconciliation too easily, wrapping up his characters' messy lives too neatly. Still, his acute rendering of the peculiar psychology of concentration-camp survivors and their children rings powerful and true. --Alix WilberFrom the Publisher:
"In this new novel, Thane Rosenbaum continues, with tact and talent, his quest for the rediscovery of a vanished world and its haunted wanderers." --Elie Wiesel
"I found Thane Rosenbaum's novel, Second Hand Smoke, chilling and mesmerizing, its prose alternately poetic and demonic, its atmosphere at times Dantesque and at times Bellovian. An altogether gripping tale of the seemingly endless consequences of the Holocaust." --Chaim Potok
"Thane Rosenbaum's Second Hand Smoke is written with passion and energy, and it transcends the individual experience, penetrating into the roots of Jewish existence. This is a book not to be easily forgotten." --Aharon Appelfeld
"A fine and bristling family saga." --Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love
"Thane Rosenbaum writes with unique conviction, passion, and pathos. His voice of obsessive sorrow resonates with the truth about the post-Holocaust world, in which nothing can ever be entirely put right again." --Rebecca Goldstein, author of Mazel
"As deadly on target as its title, Second Hand Smoke explores--with tragic sense and wit, with compassion and optimism--how parents' trauma is passed on to children, then transformed and resolved. Thane Rosenbaum's literary voice is singular, alluring, and important." --Daniel Goldhagen, author of Hitler's Willing Executioners
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