How Michael Lavigne Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Suicide Bomb

Jewish Irony Pervades Award-Winning Author's Work

Michael “The Machine” Lavigne: The Sami Rohr-nominated novelist of “Not Me” returns with his follow-up “The Wanting.”
Gayle S. Geary
Michael “The Machine” Lavigne: The Sami Rohr-nominated novelist of “Not Me” returns with his follow-up “The Wanting.”

By Nan Goldberg

Published March 12, 2013, issue of March 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

This is only Michael Lavigne’s second novel (“Not Me,” which won a Sami Rohr Choice award, was the first, in 2005), but you can already pick out some signature styles and preoccupations. In both novels, horror and humor are coiled around each other inseparably, like the strands of DNA’s double helix.

Here, for instance, is young Amir on the day of his martyrdom, with the bomb already strapped to his chest, remembering too late that he was supposed to buy the batteries. Reluctantly he strips the batteries from his father’s beloved remote control, cringing at the thought of his father’s rage when he discovers the dead remote. He leaves a note: “Sorry, but your batteries are needed to liberate Palestine. Love, Amir.”

Both novels are heavily steeped in irony, which Lavigne sees as a condition of Israeli existence — not, perhaps, as necessary as oxygen (although who knows?), but equally fundamental. Irony is not in the atmosphere, it is the atmosphere: Israelis must absorb and somehow withstand being compared to Hitler, day and night without respite. They must tolerate the worldwide tendency to see the terrorists as the victims in the endless struggle between Israel and 300 million Arabs.

And the ultimate irony is that despite having struggled and fought to build a Jewish safe haven, safety is further away than ever before. Even in Russia under the Communists, they didn’t try to blow you up at bus stops.

Yeah, Jews and irony: like a horse and carriage.

Incapable of stepping back into his life as if nothing had happened, Roman wanders around southern Israel and the West Bank, trying to make sense of violence. During those unsupervised hours, Anyusha is being recruited by a group of Jewish religious extremists who want to blow up a mosque.

Meanwhile, the soul of Amir, the headless suicide bomber, is not allowed into heaven. Weeks after his suicide, Amir is still unsure why he is not in “Paradise with my dark-eyed maidens and rivers of wine,” and vaguely concludes that “Allah had other plans” for him. He wishes he could remember what the Quran had to say on this point, but since he never did get around to reading the holy book, he cannot remember anything helpful.

Roman drives into the West Bank and leaves his car at Amir’s father’s garage, pretending to want a tune-up, then wanders into the desert just outside town and becomes hopelessly lost. Many hours later, Amir’s father finds him, dehydrated and incoherent, and decides to bring him home until he’s well enough to travel. At some point, Roman realizes he is sleeping in Amir’s bed.

It’s probably inevitable that a novel about people searching for answers to unanswerable questions will not have a clean, satisfying ending. Each of the three learns something important, though, allowing them to resume their unique journey, wherever it takes them.

As in life, that’s all we can ask.

Nan Goldberg, a freelance writer living in Cape Cod, writes for numerous publications, including the Boston Globe and New York Observer.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.