Occasional book review – “The Dog with the Chip in his Neck” by Andrei Codrescu

Auntie Doris and Cal are putting me to shame with their reading – AD has nearly read 50 books this year already, and Cal’s gone over 30 I think. I don’t think I’ve made it into double figures yet!

I have though just finished “The Dog with the Chip in his Neck” by Andrei Codrescu, which is one of those dippable-into books (which is probably why it’s taken me so long – I must have started reading it 2 months ago, and I’ve read other stuff in the meantime). Codrescu is Romanian-born, but emigrated to the USA in 1966. The book is a series of (very short, mostly!) essays, many of which originally appeared on National Public Radio (NPR). The essays are on all sorts of diverse subjects, ranging from religion, America, Romania, the experience of being an immigrant, art, poetry, and all sorts of other things. He now works as a university professor, teaching (I think) creative writing, and it is clear that language and writing is really important to him. I enjoyed his musings on learning English (when he arrived in the US he hardly spoke any English, and learnt it from being immersed in it rather than from formal classes). I have to say that at times I found his style really quite bombastic and irritating, but whenever I got to the point where I was going to stop reading I’d suddenly read something really profound or beautiful and have to stop and ponder what he’d just said.

There were plenty of the essays about which I felt largely indifferent. But that’s OK, because they were mostly only a page and a half long. But I always loved when he talked about Romania. He was born and lived the first 19 years of his life in Sibiu, where I was living last year. So when he talked about the city I could actually see the places he was talking about. I was really moved when he was talking about the Torah from the Synagogue in Sibiu – along with synagogues throughout Europe, it was sacked by the Nazis during the 2nd world war and the Torah taken to Germany, where eventually the plan of the Nazis was that they would feature in a Museum of Judaism. After the war, the various Torahs and other artifacts found themselves in the care of synagogues throughout the world, and the Sibiu Torah found a resting place in the Synagogue in Dallas. Codrescu talked about how in Dallas the children of the synagogue congregation were allowed to touch and hold the Torah, and that in that way each child had the care, in their heart, of each member of the Sibiu Synagogue. I was so moved by that – I met some of those members, they were so friendly in showing me round when I visited. I remember one older man (probably well into his 60s) who came in just as I was finishing looking round and looking at the displays in the entrance hall, shaking my hand and bidding me “Shalom”, and frankly being really rather flirtatious! And the younger, very shy many who was with him. And the lovely young man who showed me round, who explained about the various parts of the synagogue and its history and people.

So, despite the sometimes irritating bits of this book, the references to Romania and particularly to Sibiu meant that I kept coming back to it, and feeling a connection to what he was saying. I’ll definitely dip back into this book again.

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