Zabor, Rafi 1946–
Zabor, Rafi 1946–
PERSONAL: Original name Joel Zaborovsky; born August 22, 1946, in New York, NY; son of Harry and Sadie (Novack) Zaborovsky. Education: Brooklyn College, B.A., 1977. Politics: "Left-liberal; now unspecifiable." Religion: "Private, inward, independent." Hobbies and other interests: Music, travel to Europe and Asia, art, Sufism.
CAREER: Jazz drummer, 1967–; journalist, 1977–89; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Foundation for the Arts grant, 1995; PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, 1998.
The Bear Comes Home (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
I, Wabenzi: A Souvenir (memoir), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to anthology The Jazz Musician, St. Martin's Press. Also contributor of articles to periodicals, including Musician and Village Voice.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Several more autobiographical works.
SIDELIGHTS: Music journalist and occasional jazz drummer Rafi Zabor has explored the intricacies of the creative process in jazz in his first novel, The Bear Comes Home, which revolves around the assuredly human activities of a bear who performs jazz on the saxophone. When the Bear, who is a descendant of a family of European circus performers, decides to strive for the big time instead of performing on New York City street corners with his owner, Joe, he begins a musical and personal journey that takes him on tour, finds him thrown in jail and studied for his strangely opposable thumbs and ability to talk, and has a trans-species romance with a biologist named Iris. "This [is a] tale … of generations of jazz musicians who have struggled with an uncomprehending, hostile world to be taken seriously as artists," wrote A.O. Scott in a review for Newsday. Scott continued: "In fluent, witty prose he conveys with remarkable vividness the texture of group improvisation, as well as the uniquely intuitive logic of solo playing and composition."
Calling the novel a "hilarious, richly imagined bear's-eye view of love, music, alienation, manhood and humanity," a Publishers Weekly reviewer compared Za-bor's wit favorably with that of Thomas Pynchon. David Nicholson, writing for the Washington Post, asserted that the book "cuts straight to the heart of things. By turns wry and whimsical, by turns brave, sad and questing, it's as profoundly affecting as a great jazz solo and, like a great solo, lingers in the mind afterward." Regarding the numerous musical and cultural allusions, Nicholson added: "In the wrong hands, all this could seem precious. Here, however, it's no more strained than it was when the great Dexter Gordon slyly quoted from popular songs in his solos."
In 2005 Zabor published his first autobiographical work, I, Wabenzi: A Souvenir. The first of what the author hopes to be four volumes, this memoir relates a number of tales from Zabor's childhood and adult life. The author writes of growing up in Brooklyn, helping his parents as they became ill, traveling from the United States to Turkey after their deaths, and finding spiritual significance with a Sufi sect in England. Several critics praised Zabor for his work on I, Wabenzi, enjoying the lushness of the author's tale and finding his writing poetic and revealing. "Zabor, equipped with staggering gifts for language and characterization, is a sure-footed guide over this ever-shifting landscape," wrote Jack Livings in a review for Newsweek. Others found the wandering nature of the author's writing to be appealing and reflective of the true nature of Zabor's story—one that focuses on a life that has no direct and obvious path. "Zabor's voice is so warm and frank that the extravagant meandering of his storytelling amounts to generosity," observed Entertainment Weekly contributor Troy Patterson.
Zabor once told CA: "When I first got an idea about a sax-playing bear and his friend Jones—after watching a gypsy and his Bear leave the forecourt of a mosque in Istanbul—I thought it too broad a comic premise to be worth working on; but three weeks later, in Kenya, instead of beginning an article I owed Musician Magazine, I wrote what is now the first chapter of The Bear Comes Home and sent it to Musician for safekeeping. They printed it, asked for more, and it ran for a year. I was surprised to find out how much depth the premise could sustain. A fourteen-year writer's block on the book followed, but all went well when I resumed work on it in 1994 and it was done two years later."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Zabor, Rafi, I, Wabenzi: A Souvenir, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, August, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of I, Wabenzi, p. 1983.
Entertainment Weekly, October 14, 2005, Troy Patterson, review of I, Wabenzi, p. 157.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2005, review of I, Wabenzi, p. 906.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of The Bear Comes Home, p. 128.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, 1998, Charles de Lint, review of The Bear Comes Home, p. 38.
Newsday, August 17, 1997, A.O. Scott, review of The Bear Comes Home, p. 13.
Newsweek, October 17, 2005, Jack Livings, review of I, Wabenzi, p. 57.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 23, 2005, Philip A. Stephenson, review of I, Wabenzi.
Publishers Weekly, June 23, 1997, review of The Bear Comes Home, p. 70; August 15, 2005, review of I, Wabenzi, p. 52; August 29, 2005, Marcela Valdes, "I, Joel Zaborovsky," p. 24.
Washington Post, August 5, 1997, David Nicholson, review of The Bear Comes Home, p. 2.
Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (December 13, 2005), Laura Leichum, review of I, Wabenzi.
New York Metro Online, http://www.newyorkmetro.com/ (December 13, 2005), Keith Gessen, review of I, Wabenzi.
PBS News Hour Online, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/ (April 13, 1998), interview with Rafi Zabor.