Badanes, Jerome 1937-1995
BADANES, Jerome 1937-1995
Writer and educator. Taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, and urban studies at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.
Image before My Eyes (documentary screenplay), Yivo Institute, 1980.
The Final Opus of Leon Solomon (a novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
Jerome Badanes spent his early life distancing himself from his Jewish heritage, but while studying English at the University of Michigan, he became involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements, which inspired him to write poetry about social responsibility. Badanes wrote Image before My Eyes, a documentary screenplay about life in Poland before the Holocaust. He told New York Times Book Review contributor Robin Pogrebin that "some say that only those people who experienced the Holocaust have the right to talk about it.… I feel an obligation to remember and to reimagine."
Badanes's The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, was called "a memorable first novel" by Molly Abramowitz in Library Journal. The story is a first-person narrative told by the protagonist, Polish Holocaust survivor Leon Solomon. In the novel, Solomon is caught cutting documents from the New York Public Library's Judaica collection with a razor. He is subsequently banned from libraries and thus unable to perform his work as a historian. Solomon lives in two rooms in a midtown hotel, contemplating his suicide, where, as a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "bitterness, rage, sexual obsession, and a considerable amount of psychotic delusion permeate his recollections of life in Poland before the war." Solomon recalls his incestuous love for his sister, her death at the hands of the Gestapo, his own seduction and rape, and his internment in Auschwitz. He dwells on his estrangement from his German-Jewish wife and their American-born son as well as his sexual fantasies and exploits.
Philip Gourevitch, who reviewed the novel in the Village Voice, wrote that "unfortunately, Badanes shies away from the political issues, instead devoting most of the book to graphic details of Solomon's sex life." The novel's troubled protagonist develops an obsession with an African-American radio talk show host named Fulani. He also experiences his final sexual encounter with his neighbor, Kristin Dietrich, the daughter of a German SS officer, "with whom he entertains the delusion of an elaborate erotic economy of reparations," noted Gourevitch. "This is powerful stuff, written with passionate restraint and eloquence, and so it is doubly maddening that Badanes could not let Solomon explore it more directly, and with his pants on."
At the book's end, Solomon is sitting in a phone booth in the hotel lobby, unsuccessfully trying to reach people. Edith Milton, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that just as Solomon spends his last quarter, "and his ties to existence are ready to dissolve, an unasked-for instant of pure joy and total ordinariness smites him from the past." Milton continued, calling the occurrence a "rebirth of a sort, a retrograde resurrection possibly of no use to anyone; but like much of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, it suggests that the most unhappy life in the most unjust world is luminous with complexities."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, summer, 1989, Nancy Schwerner, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 367.
Library Journal, December, 1988, Molly Abramowitz, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 130.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 5, 1989, Susan Slocum Hinerfeld, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 8.
New Yorker, April 3, 1989, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 115.
New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1989, Edith Milton, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, Robin Pogrebin, "I Wanted to Be an American" (interview), p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1988, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, pp. 62-63.
Village Voice, April 25, 1989, Philip Gourevitch, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 53.
Washington Post Book World, May 4, 1989, Douglas McCreary Greenwood, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon.
West Coast Review of Books, May-June, 1989, Dorothy H. Rochmis, review of The Final Opus of Leon Solomon, p. 53.
Time, May 29, 1995, p. 17.*