COMPLICATIONS: JEZ & ZOE


THE ACTION takes place mostly in New York City, where Wolf Berlin and his ex-wife Jez teach in universities, but a complicated plot, twisting and turning, also takes the characters to London, Rome, Athens, and two mysterious Greek islands, Patmos (where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation) and Santorini (a volcanic island that is a leading candidate for Atlantis).  The central action is, well, what?  Is it Wolf's struggle to "save the world," as he himself tells us?  Wolf reveals that he has just uncovered an apocalyptic threat to the world in the plotting by a rival messiah to save the world by destroying it.  This plot is everywhere visible on the Net, he discovers, if you have the key to it.   But the more Wolf tells us about this mad plot, the more we sense that there is a deeper plot, perhaps equally mad, with horrendous consequences for all of us if we don't figure it out.

THE STORY & A SAMPLE


THE STORY AND ITS CHARACTERS are summarized below, but since reading this may spoil some of the novel's surprises,  you may prefer not to read this until after you have read the novel.

If you would like to read a sample of the novel, Chapter 1 is available to you by clicking here.



The novel's antagonist is that old kindred spirit and trusted confidante of Wolf's, Harry Zaddik. In the 1950s Wolf and Harry had been secularist soul-mates and fraternity brothers, but in the intervening years they have gone in opposite directions, Harry returning to the ultra-orthodox Judaism that as a youth he had abandoned and even ridiculed, as Wolf became more adamantly secularist. Harry is an Hasidic rabbi by the 90s, who, unknown to Wolf, has grown fabulously wealthy wholesaling and shipping jewelry to tourist shops in the Greek isles but who has used some of his wealth to ship Hasidic Jews to Israel in the belief that "real Jews" should return to the homeland 

In the mid-90s, then, Harry comes back into Wolf's life, after an absence of about 30 years, to make Wolf an offer he can't refuse.  It seems that, deeply wounded by an old fraternity hazing experience that Wolf had inadvertently led him into all those years ago, Harry plotted for thirty years to establish a new religion that will be, he hopes, a "Final Solution" in reverse, that will put an end to the persecution of the Jews initiated by the original Book of Revelation but in an apocalyptic way ironically appropriate to that book.  Harry's "Religion of the Crucified Israel" is shocking in its apocalyptic dťnouement but somehow answers to the psychic wound inflicted on him years ago.  In command of fantastic, secret technology, Harry intends to impose this religion on the world, to achieve world peace by first almost destroying the world and then subjecting the survivors to forced conversion.  When Harry, in the mid-90s, after mysteriously planting sinister clues about himself on the Internet, eventually intrigues Wolf to visit him on Santorini, Wolf receives the details of Harry's apocalyptic plot with growing amazement and horror, thinking that his old friend is now mad.  But the matter is complicated when Harry offers to make Wolf the Peter and Paul of his new post-Apocalypse religion.  For an actor like Wolf, such roles are hard to turn down, especially when he sees how his own religion does not seem to be getting off the ground as he would like.  Although he insists he's not the least tempted by this, it does give him pause and affects the development of his own religion, now offered as the only viable antidote to Harry's new religion.


Wolf Berlin is an anthropology professor specializing in comparative religion and also a sometime off-Broadway actor.  Narrating from the perspective of the 1990s, Wolf first takes us back to his childhood and the intervening years to explain why he is behaving so unusually, so out of character, in the present.  Finally realizing a messianic identity repressed for decades, it seems, this arch-skeptic and adamant secularist has startled friends by suddenly attempting to start a new religion, the "Religion of the Future," having finally come to the conclusion that the New World Order he believes is this planet's only hope will not come about until a New World Religion has converted people to its necessity and provided its rationale.  As he becomes more obsessed by it, Wolf spends an increasing amount of time trying to define his new religion, to promote it, and to achieve conversions, tough sledding all the way.  But there's ambiguity from the start, as it seems he is also attempting to create this religion as a counter, an antidote, to a rival, new, apocalyptic religion, which gradually we learn about.  And in this rivalry there are very personal considerations, such as his belief that this rival religion is the consequence of a twisting of an idea he had expressed when young to what he thought was a kindred spirit and trusted confidante.   


THE ANTAGONIST: HARRY ZADDIK


THE PROTAGONIST: WOLF BERLIN


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HOME PAGE | CONTENTS & EPIGRAPHS | THE STORY & A SAMPLE | TOPICS & THEMES | THE AUTHOR


Complications are brought into this basic conflict between Wolf and Harry by two female characters--Jez Cohen, Wolf's ex-wife and a Professor of Women's Studies at another New York university, and ZoŽ Zaddik, Harry's exotically beautiful half-Greek daughter who is a geek genius capable of performing magic with the computer.   

Jez Cohen is an ardent feminist from the beginning (largely the result of traumatic family experiences), who likes to think of herself as a totally deprogrammed Jew (as Harry seemed to be when Wolf first knew him).   Seeing in Judaism the source of much of that patriarchal culture that afflicts the world with destructive politics, Jez strives to revive and modernize an earlier religion, the religion of "The Great Mother" or "The Goddess," which she believes the ancient Hebrews suppressed and misrepresented.  Wolf consults Jez because in the construction of his new religion he wishes to achieve a gender balance that our patriarchal religions lack, but he thinks Jez's feminist perspective is excessively doctrinaire and counter-productive.   In fact, they have argued over this and many other things in the past, and, when Harry makes his offer to Wolf in the mid-90s, Wolf and Jez have recently divorced.  The aftermath of the divorce contributes to Wolf's desperate state of mind and his sense that he needs to change his life, perfect conditions for Harry's offer.

One of the possible consequences of divorce for college professors is that they can immediately become subjects of romantic interest for their female graduate students, and so Wolf falls into the old trap of age-gap dating.  The young grad student who most captures his attention is an exotic Greek blond named ZoŽ, whose last name is not given as Zaddik because Harry believes daughters should take their mothers' last name, but this is indeed Harry's daughter, whose home is the Greek island of Santorini.  Harry has insinuated himself into Wolf's life by planting clues all over the Internet that imply a vast conspiracy to take over the world, and ZoŽ comes along at just the right moment to provide the computer expertise needed to uncover this conspiracy, its range, scope, and intentions.  That is, she is both running the computer conspiracy for her father and helping Wolf crack its codes at the same time to intrigue him.  Eventually Wolf comes to the realization that the ultimate purpose of the cyber-conspiracy, which is seemingly being backed up by horrific acts of mostly Moslem-faced terrorism, is to get the Jews blamed for everything, which is step 1 in Harry's plot to establish his peculiar new sacrificial religion, so shocking in its dťnouement.  ZoŽ intrigues Wolf both intellectually and sexually, to the extent of inspiring him to search for her and her father when they leave New York for their Greek island.  What Wolf discovers from this point on, in his tour of the Greek islands of Patmos and Santorini and subsequent return to New York, is the meat of the novel, and I don't want to give it away, in case you're reading this before reading the novel.


MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, AND JOHN


Although the last three chapters are full of surprises that I don't want to give away, I will reveal one surprise--that they are narrated by a different narrator, a man named "Paul."  I won't reveal, however, why Paul takes over the narration from Wolf.  For about thirty years Paul had been an office neighbor of Wolf's in the same anthropology department and an old jock buddy and best friend until late-career success in writing best-selling novels allowed Paul to quit anthropology for full-time writing and move to London to be with another young grad student after his divorce.  It is Paul's leased New York apartment in which the divorced Wolf lives.  Paul is enticed back into Wolf's life when Wolf recognizes that to establish a new religion he needs a professional writer to do for him what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did for Jesus, transmogrify him into a powerful mythic figure.  But Paul, in London, is unaware of much that is happening in Wolf's life and only gradually comes to a realization of the radical change that Wolf is undergoing and of the motives behind it.  For example, he is at first misled by Wolf's insistence that the primary object of writing a novel for Wolf is to expose Harry's plot, to stop Harry from enacting his Apocalypse Now, rather than to promote Wolf as the founder of "The Religion of the Future."  The last three chapters relate Paul's dawning realization of Wolf's true motives and an astonishing conclusion to the conflict between Wolf and Harry.   

And that's enough of the story.



"The Final

Solution

is that

there is

no

Final

Solution."

AUTHOR'S SUMMARY


Ours is an age of religious impasse, among religions but also between religion and secularism.  The Final Solution tells of two men, representing many, who are obsessed with breaking through this stalemate by founding a religion that will sweep the world, resolve most conflicts in a new allegiance, and provide the bedrock of a peace-bringing New World Order.   But they have very different ways of doing this, one of which ironically threatens you and me and everybody else.

These two would-be messiahs, Harry Zaddik and Wolf Berlin, cook up diametrically opposed religions, while both thinking they are following the lead of Jesus.  This is typical of the hermeneutical confusion that follows in the wake of any sage but all the more typical of those who wish to follow the teachings of a prophet or wise man who left no writings of his own, whether it be Socrates or Jesus or whoever.  In such cases, there's nothing to interpret but interpretations and second-hand reporting.  In the case of Jesus, since there is nothing to go on but the personal and undoubtedly biased and sometimes mistaken testimony of the gospelers and others of the time and a very uncertain tradition, leaving us with very ambiguous texts, we in the West have been bedeviled by the charges and counter-charges of "heresy" that have rung down the ages in the battles among those who are convinced they are in possession of "the real Jesus."   But who was the real Jesus?   

Many different Jesuses have been invoked over the centuries, but this novel focuses on the two whose contradictory natures account for much of the religious warfare of the past twenty centuries. Taking the path of the apocalyptic, judgmental, warrior Jesus, Harry, Wolf tells us, uses acts of terrorism and Internet conspiracy to prepare for his Final Solution and forced salvation.  To avert the Holocaust of Humanity he believes Harry is plotting, Wolf offers a religion modeled after Jesus as the tolerant, non-judgmental Prince of Peace, who promises a fruitful world without end if we follow his path. 

But this is all according to Wolf Berlin, who is eager that we understand Harry Zaddik as he understands him, as a madman, a monster of religion, but one tortured into a monstrous madness by the ironic backfiring of Wolf's own good intentions decades ago.   Wolf insists that he created this monster.  And that he needs help in stopping him from destroying us all.  Yet he is also concerned that we not get so fascinated with Harry's monstrous plot to destroy the world in order to save it that we lose track of "The Religion of the Future" that Wolf is building.   After all, Frankenstein, he insists, was a story about Dr. Frankenstein and not his monster.   And so too, we are told, The Final Solution is centrally about Dr. Berlin and not his monster.