Tell Me How This Ends Well” by David Samuel Levinson. New York, Hogarth Publishers, 2018. 404 pages, $16.
It’s a nightmarish time for American Jews. Armed gangs of skinheads and suicide bombers are murdering them, and they are being openly ridiculed and insulted by ordinary people. Israel has been destroyed and Israeli refugees by the millions are coming to the United States and Europe. And all this is happening not in the distant future but in 2022 — only four years from now.
Those are the parameters of this interesting dystopian novel, many of whose assumptions, however, are not very credible.
Israel is destroyed by a combination of the armed forces of Lebanon, Syria and Iran, as the United States stands by and does nothing, writes author David Samuel Levinson. In reality, Lebanon is a non-factor militarily. The Syrian government has just won a long civil war in which much of the country was devastated, its army decimated and the remnants of the Sunni opposition still a danger to the regime.
The risks of war with Israel only four years in the future would seem unduly high for the Syrians even to consider taking part.
That leaves Iran and its client militia, Hezbollah. The latter is a formidable fighting force as are some units in the Iranian Army, but that combination is not nearly strong enough to defeat the IDF, absent the use of nuclear weapons, which were not used in this fictional war.
Despite the rise in isolationist sentiment within the Republican Party, it’s nonetheless almost impossible to envision a GOP president standing aside and not helping Israel in its time of crisis. In writing the book before 2016 and envisioning an isolationist American president, Levinson seems prescient.
Polls show Democrats less supportive of the Jewish state, but it’s still hard to imagine a Democratic president doing nothing as the Jewish state is destroyed, for Jews vote and contribute money disproportionately to Democratic Party candidates.
The novel posits millions of Israeli refugees. But the number of Israeli survivors of the destruction of the Jewish state would be counted only in the thousands.
Then, there are the suicide bombings in the United States. Sure, strapping on a bomb or putting one in a car and murdering innocent people has become the Islamist calling card all over the world.
But the object of these attacks in the novel are not fortified government installations or armed soldiers but individual civilians riding in cars. And acquiring pistols and rifles in America is easy. So, why not gun down Jews, a far more efficient means of murder?
Having said all that, this is still a very scary book.
In “Tell Me How This Ends Well,” physical and verbal abuse of Jews includes teen skinheads bludgeoning to death a pregnant Jewish woman in a synagogue’s parking lot using tube socks filled with nail-studded soap bars; skinheads wearing Hitler masks beating a professor with bats so badly that he went into a three-week-long coma; a fellow passenger on an airplane calling one of the Jewish characters in the book an obscenity; that same woman, when she moved into her office at Emory University in Atlanta, finding one of her boxes covered with swastikas and graffiti, with the words “GO HOME JEW [vulgarity] … ADDRESS UNKNOWN: RETURN TO HITLER”; the ongoing suicide bombings on Los Angeles freeways and elsewhere, targeting Jews, and the destruction of synagogues and other Jewish institutions, much of it chronicled on the nightly TV news segment “Jews in the News.”
The question to ask after reading this novel is not whether the author’s assumptions are reasonable, but rather is the level of real-life anti-Semitism in the United States high enough to sustain a violent and continuing campaign against America Jews?
Two years ago, I would have said probably not. Today, I’m less sure, following the 2016 election and the analysis of the vote, which seems to indicate that those who supported President Donald Trump did so more out of animus toward minorities than frustration with the state of the economy or the “swamp” in Washington.
However, this assault on American Jewry is not the focus of the novel, but rather background to the story of an extremely dysfunctional Jewish family. The Jacobsons have gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate Pesach — with the grown children planning the murder of Julian Jacobson, husband, father and one truly evil person.
Surprises — some fortuitous, some not — await readers both in the realms of the Jacobsons and the world at large.
If you like scary books and the unexpected, you’ll want to read this one to the final page, for “Tell Me How This Ends Well” ends, as you might have guessed, not well, but on a truly frightening note.
Aaron Leibel is a former editor at The Jerusalem Post and Washington Jewish Week. His novel, “Generations: The Story of a Jewish Family,” which spans 1,500 years and three continents, is available at amazon.com and in Kindle format.