Gordon, Noah 1926-
GORDON, Noah 1926-
PERSONAL: Born November 11, 1926, in Worcester, MA; son of Robert and Rose (Melnikoff) Gordon; married Claire Lorraine Seay, August 25, 1951; children: Lise Ann, Jamie Beth, Michael Seay. Education: Boston University, B.Sc. (journalism), 1950, M.A., 1951. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, tennis, gardening.
ADDRESSES: Home—23 Savoy Rd., Framingham, MA 01701. Office—39 Cochituate Rd., Framingham, MA 01701. Agent—Patricia Schartle, McIntosh & Otis, Inc., 18 East 41st St., New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Avon Book, Inc., New York, NY, assistant editor, 1951-53; Magazine Management, Inc., New York, NY, associate editor, then managing editor, 1953-56; Worcester Telegram, Worcester, MA, reporter, 1957-59; Boston Herald, Boston, MA, science
editor, 1959-63; Opinion Publications, Inc., Framingham, MA, publisher of Psychiatric Opinion, 1964—, editor, 1964-66, 1968—, president and later director of company, 1966—. Writer, 1964—. Member of national advisory board, Center for Psychological Studies on Death, Dying and Lethal Behavior, 1970; member of board of directors, Framingham Writers Workshop; vice chair of board of trustees, Framingham Public Libraries. Military service: U.S. Army, 1945-46.
MEMBER: National Association of Science Writers, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, B'nai B'rith, Massachusetts Library Trustees Association, Sigma Delta Chi, Sudbury River Tennis Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Distinguished Achievement Award, Boston University School of Public Communication, 1966; James Fenimore Cooper Prize, Society of American Historians, 1992, for Shaman; named novelist of the year, Bertelsmann Book Club; Silver Basque Prize, 1992, 1995.
The Rabbi, McGraw (New York, NY), 1965.
The Death Committee, McGraw (New York, NY), 1969.
The Jerusalem Diamond, Random House (New York, NY), 1979.
The Last Jew, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Physician, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
Shaman, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
Matters of Choice, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Contributor of fiction and articles to Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Reporter, Ladies' Home Journal, Saturday Review, and other magazines. Member of editorial board, Omega, 1970.
SIDELIGHTS: For four decades Noah Gordon has penned novels that are both popular—many have been bestsellers—and critically lauded. He works into his fiction his own special areas of interest and knowledge, such as science in The Death Committee, and Jewish history in The Jerusalem Diamond. Gordon has worked as a reporter and editor for several publishers and publications, including the Boston Herald. He is, however, best known as a novelist.
Gordon's writing career got off to a successful start with The Rabbi, a bestseller that chronicles the family life surrounding Rabbi Michael Kind. The protagonist constantly balances himself between an Orthodox grandfather who is never satisfied, and a Protestant-convert wife who must endure the anti-gentilism of her husband's congregation. W. G. Rogers wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Enough of it is common to us all to convince us; enough is different to supply a flavorsome novelty and keep our interest at a high pitch." Several critics were pleased by the book, many concurring that it is a highly moving and realistic account of a Jewish family. Rogers compared the novel with Myron Kaufman's Remember Me to God as another such account "rich with meaningful experiences."
Gordon's next novel, The Death Committee, also reached the bestseller lists. This volume delves into the workings of Suffolk County General Hospital's mortality committee, an institution before which a doctor who has lost a patient must defend his treatment. At the center of the story are three young surgeons and the leader of the committee, a brilliant doctor who is slowly dying of kidney failure. Frank G. Slaughter commented of the book in the New York Times Book Review, "This book is a moving re-creation of the personal problems of the major characters, their victories, their defeats—and, most important of all, the evolution of young doctors from cocksure graduate to adult physician."
One Gordon novel that received largely negative reviews is The Jerusalem Diamond. The general critical consensus was that Gordon had a good idea, but tried to accomplish far too much. The novel's protagonist is Harry Hopeman, a Manhattan Jew who is carrying on a 500-year family legacy in the diamond business. His life changes dramatically when he is asked to represent Israel in an international rivalry for the purchase of the "Jerusalem diamond," a hidden treasure from King Solomon's temple. Hopeman's quest for the gem leads him to his ancestors' homeland, where he experiences a personal, spiritual, and political catharsis. Newgate Callendar in the New York Times Book Review noted that the book's premise is "exciting," but added, "The author takes off on so many tangents that one wonders what kind of book he originally had in mind."
Gordon bounced back to critical popularity, however, with his next novel, The Physician, which begins a trilogy that follows the Cole family. The Physician is set in the eleventh century and follows an orphan boy named Rob Cole throughout the English countryside with the barber-surgeon to whom he is apprentice. In his travels, Rob meets all the right people and winds up a student—in Jewish disguise—at a renowned Persian teaching hospital, friend to rulers, and worldly adventurer and philosopher.
Critics noted both the book's readability and serious treatment of some critical and timely issues. Jonathan Fast, in the New York Times Book Review, said that "one should not mistake this wonderfully conceived time machine of a novel for mere escapism. Mr. Gordon's depiction of the medical profession sheds a harsh light on doctors of today. And his treatment of a Christian living among Jews and Moslems in a foreign land … seems surprisingly relevant." Fast summarized the novel this way: "Populated by engaging characters, rich in incident and vivid in historic detail, the … novel … is a pleasure."
The second book in the "Cole" trilogy is Shaman, set several centuries later. Robert Jefferson Cole, or "Shaman," is another smart young doctor. The novel begins in 1864 with his discovery of his deceased father's diary. The life of this man, his son's life, and the inter-weaving of the two are at the center of the novel. Peter Blauner in the New York Times Book Review called the technique of passing stories between generations a "clumsy framing device," and acknowledged that the book's plot is "the stuff of countless mini-series and blockbuster novels." However, like other critics, Blauner found that Gordon still pulls off a powerful story. "The difference," he wrote, "is that [the author] writes with the skill and patience of a good doctor. Instead of swinging for the fences with big overwrought scenes, he builds atmosphere with the careful accretion of detail….He also investshis characters with true complexity." Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly held a similar view: "In serviceable, if curiously unemotional prose, Gordon tells a quietly absorbing story."
Gordon finishes the trilogy with Matters of Choice, which focuses on modern-day female physician R. J. Cole. Cole is a middle-aged doctor in Boston whose marriage is crumbling and who has just been turned down for a high-level hospital post because of her part-time work at an abortion clinic. In step with the other members of this fictional family, Cole moves her practice to the rural Berkshires, where she develops relationships with a Jewish real estate agent and his seventeen-year-old daughter. Critics, again, appeared impressed with Gordon's ability to tell an emotionally stirring, complex, and convincing story. A Booklist reviewer characterized Matters of Choice as a "delightful and moving story." As Steinberg noted in Publishers Weekly, "Gordon's greatest strength is his ability to seamlessly meld his characters' emotional dilemmas and medical crises to dramatic effect." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "perhaps Gordon's best work so far; the pace is even, and R. J. is a heroine worth caring about."
Gordon reaches back into history once again for his 2000 novel The Last Jew. In fifteenth-century Spain, the Inquisition is wreaking its havoc on the country's Jewish population. Following a mass deportation of Jews from the country they had called home since Roman times, those choosing to stay are pressured to join the Catholic church. For fifteen-year-old Yonah Toledano, who has already witnessed his father and brother die at the hands of inquisitors, keeping true to his faith becomes the guiding force in his life. Yonah begins a journey of self-discovery as he seeks to avenge his father's death. As he grows into manhood, Yonah survives by adopting the persona of a Christian physician, but still prays as a Jew. "Ultimately," commented Gregory Delzer in Local Planet, "Yonah must discover how to best honor both his family and his Judaism." A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Gordon's efforts, saying that "through a crowded landscape of characters and incidents, he illuminates the choices history forces on individuals—and, not incidentally, creates a grand, informative adventure."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 1996, review of Matters of Choice, p. 1342.
Hudson Review, autumn, 2001, review of The Last Jew, p. 498.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1979, p. 77; February 1, 1996, review of Matters of Choice, p. 158.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 2002, Robin Holab-Abelman, review of The Last Jew, p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, August 1, 1965, W. G. Rogers, review of The Rabbi; June 15, 1969, Frank G. Slaughter, review of The Death Committee; May 13, 1979, p. 28; August 17, 1986, Jonathan Fast, review of The Physician, p. 22; January 3, 1993, Peter Blauner, review of Shaman.
Publishers Weekly, June 20, 1966, p. 80; April 20, 1970, p. 63; July 4, 1986, p. 55; July 13, 1992, Sybil Steinberg, review of Shaman; February 19, 1996, Sybil Steinberg, review of Matters of Choice, p. 203; July 3, 2000, review of The Last Jew, p. 49.
Rapport, 2000, review of The Last Jew, p. 24.
School Library Journal, December, 2000, Molly Connally, review of The Last Jew, p. 168.
Washington Post Book World, June 28, 1970.
Local Planet,http://www.thelocalplanet.com/ (November 9, 2000), Gregory Delzer, review of The Last Jew.
Noah Gordon Web site,http://home.attbi.com/ (October 25, 2002).*