Fetishizing the Holocaust

Comedy and Transatlantic Connections in Howard Jacobson's Kalooki Nights

in European Judaism

The British Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson has, from the start of his career, found himself saddled with the unenviable label of 'the English Philip Roth'. For many years, Jacobson bristled at the Roth comparisons, offering the alternative label 'the Jewish Jane Austen' and insisting that he had not read Roth at all, though more recently he has put on record his admiration for Roth's comic masterpiece, Sabbath's Theater.If Jacobson's early work was certainly imbued with a Rothian Jewish humour, its cultural reference points were almost invariably English. In contrast, Kalooki Nights is saturated with allusions to American culture, in particular Jewish American culture. This article traces some of the ways in which Kalooki Nights explores and exploits these transatlantic connections in a comic novel that both participates in and satirizes what will be called here the fetishization of the Holocaust. It is concluded that Kalooki Nights is Jacobson's audacious attempt to produce a piece of Holocaust literature that exploits the tension between the desire of some Jews of his generation to know all the 'gory details', and the necessity of recognizing that their own historical situation prevents them from ever doing so. The result is to make people laugh not at the events of the Holocaust itself but at the attempt to fetishize them.