Eye on the Book Review: Stubbed Out and Dressed Up

A word of praise for an oft-overlooked genre: the newspaper illustration. This past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review offered the Jewishly minded reader two especially good examples of the art — drawings that with a few quick brushstrokes manage to capture their subject’s essence.

The first, accompanying Christopher Hitchens’s new book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” came in the form of an ashtray with stubbed-out cigarettes forming the symbols of the three great monotheistic religions: the cross, the crescent and the Star of David. Now for those who don’t know, Hitchens is a proud and heavy smoker who wrote with passion against the cigarette ban instituted in New York by Mike Bloomberg some years ago. And so, in artist Christoph Niemann’s relatively simple picture you have conveyed three quite complicated concepts — Hitchens, religion and a good measure of disgust.

The second image was better still. Alongside a review of “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” — novelist Michael Chabon’s counter-history in which Israel does not become the Jewish homeland and Alaska does — an artist who goes simply by the name Max offers a Tlinkit totem pole topped by a shtreimel-wearing Hasid. It’s a delicious contrast. But then you start thinking, a fur shtreimel in Alaska kind of makes sense. It’s certainly better suited to the Alaskan climate than it is to the weather in, say, Williamsburg or Jerusalem.

One quibble: The Lubavitchers, the sect on whom the novel’s Verbover Hasidim are quite clearly modeled, happen to be among those Hasidim who don’t wear shtreimels.

A second quibble: The shtreimel in the picture bears a striking resemblance to an all-season radial. Then again, given Alaska’s unforgiving terrain, you never know when you might need a spare.

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