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True to the formula of the hard-boiled detective novel, Landsman

enters the novel thoroughly burnt out: a 44-year-old workaholic and

alcoholic, depressed by his guilt-ridden memory of his father’s

suicide, his sister’s sudden and enigmatic death, his wife’s painful

abortion and a divorce. All of these experiences have made him a

cynic in a world of desperate believers: “To Landsman, heaven is

kitsch, God a word, and the soul, at most, the charge on your battery”

(130). The novel is set a year before the sixty-year lease between

Jewish settlers in Alaska and the US government is to expire, with

Landsman finding himself unsure if he will be able to keep his job,

or, more correctly, if he will be able to stay in Alaska, as all Jewish

settlers either have to leave or stay as illegal immigrants. Worse still,

he finds himself already homeless years before Alaska reverts to the

American government when he and his wife, Bina, divorce after

losing their unborn baby. Since his divorce, Landsman has lived in a

worn-out hotel, dulling his pain with alcohol. It is not difficult for

the reader to see that Landsman has been reduced by forces beyond

his control, living now as a creature deprived and dispossessed. His

world, in other words, is a prison, in which he lives on, devoid of

any hope for redemption, awaiting the end. By taking up alcohol,

Landsman is simply hastening the arrival of his day of reckoning.

As Landsman’s personal life is collapsing and the collective fate

of Alaskan Jews hangs in the air, he becomes obsessed with a murder

that occurs in his hotel. In a sense, the murder saves him from his

own suffocating ennui. Landsman finds the murder victim, who calls

himself Emmanuel Lasker but is actually Mendle Shpilman, is the

son of the most influential Rabbi of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect

called the Verbovers. Mendle was believed by many to be the

messiah, allegedly born to Jews in every generation, even though he

had run away from an arranged marriage and a plotted life and

become a drug addict. Why should a young man run away from his

influential family and a promising future? How could this dramatic

reversal of fate be explained? “What did he do?” and “Exactly why

was he dead to [his family] already?” (143). These questions rankle