A Novel By Joseph Skibell (238 Pages)Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2003
The English Disease (aka melancholia) is the story of Belski, an expert on Gustav Mahler and, like Mahler himself, a talented, neurotic, and nonpracticing Jew. Belski suffers guilt over his contribution to the decline of the Jewish religion, especially since he married a gentile and now has a gentile daughter. We follow Belski from the deserts of the American Southwest, where he contemplates divorce, to the abandoned Jewish quarters of Poland, where an obstreperous colleague pegs him as a self-hating Jew, and back to his California home, where his great-grandfather scolds him in a dream." Can an assimilated intellectual connect with an ancient and irrational (to him) religion without losing his sense of self? Can he learn to live with a Christmas tree? Can his wife and daughter bully him into opening up his heart and letting in a little joy? The English Disease continues the conversation about Jewish life in America that begins in the fiction of pioneers like Henry Roth and runs through Saul Bellow and I. B. Singer to Philip Roth and Woody Allen.