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Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial Hardcover – 1 Apr 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300167466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300167467
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 14.1 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 762,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"In brave and crisp language, Malcolm formulates a verdict to resonate beyond the courtroom."--David Astle, ABC Radio (Au), "The Book Show"--David Astle "The Book Show "

About the Author

Janet Malcolm is the author of Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, which won the PEN Biography Award, The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Reading Chekhov, Burdock, and other distinguished books. Malcolm writes frequently for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and lives in New York City.

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By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 31 Dec. 2014
Format: Paperback
Janet Malcolm, the American writer and journalist, is a superior version of the usual; run of the mill guys (and it’s usually a guy), are not bothered what they have to do to get a story, the ethics of their profession are practically non-existent, but Janet Malcolm is better than that. She obviously cares for the people she writes about, not in a touchy-feely way. She has that rare gift of getting to the heart of a situation, without having to resort to trashy tricks. Her books are very different to newspaper stories, she has a strong core of integrity. She doesn’t just listen and report, she goes deep. The psychological depths of her integrity are there in every word she writes. In her book The Journalist and the Murderer (which I highly recommend), she charted the story of a lawsuit between a convicted murderer, Jeffrey MacDonald and Joe McGinness, the author of a book about the MacDonald’s crime. In Iphiginia In Forest Hills she follows the course of another murder crime, the case of a woman doctor, accused of persuading her lover to murder her husband. There is no doubt that Mikhail Mallayev did kill Dr Borukhova’s husband. There were eye-witnesses, there was forensic proof of the 90 or more telephone calls between Dr Borukhova and Mallayev in the run up to the killing. The question remains whether justice was done in Dr Borukhova’s trial. The judge was well-known as a prosecution judge, he rarely ever took on any other kind of case.

A deep unease creeps over the reader as the case proceeds. My own opinion is that the judge was completely biased in favour of the prosecution. Not that Dr Borukhova helped herself by her own testimony. But she was a foreign national, a woman with no one supporting her and moreover, almost anorexic because of her dietary peculiarities.
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4 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on 20 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Malcolm the New Yorker sophisticate was the wrong person to cover this trial; she contrives to make voyeurs of us all. Yes, things like this happen all the time, all over the world, but without some kind of resolution, either emotional or practical, our participation is little else but prurience - or for New York Jewry, particularly its more orthodox component, an appalled Schadenfreude at this glimpse of some of their more benighted brethren, in this case from Bukhara (now part of Uzbekistan). Trial buffs may 'enjoy' it too - who knows? - but this works neither as reportage nor literature. Don't be tainted. Give it a miss

Style note: woeful construction aside, the doggedly, goodhumouredly deadpan New Yorker house style, as stylised in its way as the old Time Magazine of Henry Luce, jars in such a context. I offer this sample, from an earlier attempt at a review: 'she and I offered each other tastes of the sandwiches and fruit we'd brought from home, and struggled with the enigma of the case' Specifics, Janet, specifics - pomegranate or watermelon? (p32,114) But I guess the New Yorker is still a parish magazine at heart
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 22 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Troubling and intriguing 17 May 2011
By kevnm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was initially disoriented by Ms. Malcolm's account, expecting the "anatomy" promised by the subtitle. The word suggested to me an ordered analysis of a system, in this case the justice system. What the reader gets, though, is a deeply felt meditation on the impossibility of objectivity, the very limited "truth" allowed through the strictures of the legal system, the bewildering treatment of children by legal and social service agencies,the petty tyranny of judges, and our indeterminate sense of equality. Incidents and personalities appear, fade, and reappear, eschewing a temporal, linear flow; This is by no means a straight, suspense-filled true crime account. Rather it is a thoughtful (and appropriately disordered) reflection on why no system that involves humans can ever make complete sense or produce fair, coherent results. Malcolm is a clear thinker and an able guide through this dark territory. Scenes from this case will stay with you a long time. Terrific read.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
the Journalist and the Murderer redux 24 Jun. 2011
By Gerald A. Heverly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's certainly true that Janet Malcolm is not a traditional courtroom reporter. In this case Malcolm carries you with her in apparent skepticism about the guilty verdict, even as she piles on trial details that would--without her mediation--seem clearly to implicate and convict the defendants, Mazoltuv Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev. Malcolm does everything she can to wring sympathy for Ms. Borukhova, though just about everyone else in this book despises her. We learn that Borukhova has been apparently mistreated by one judge (in a custody battle) and now she is getting less-than-perfect 'justice' from the judge in her murder trial. We further learn that the two keys pieces of evidence against her are dubious (an indistinct, muffled translation of a Russian conversation; and a partial finger print). Whether she is guilty or not I leave to the reader.
What fascinated me about this book is its connection to Malcolm's best book, *The Journalist and the Murderer*. That book revolved around Malcolm's own misgivings about the things that journalists do to get the story. It's a complicated story within a story within a story about one journalist's relationship with a criminal defendant and Malcolm's own relationship with the author. Among other sins Malcolm ruminates about how journalists ingratiate themselves with people they secretly revile--all in the name of getting access to the kinds of details that sell a story.
And yet here, many years later, Malcolm describes her own use of that same method: "Joseph and Nalia {relatives of the victim} evidently felt no impropriety in speaking unguardedly to a journalist," remarks Malcolm, no doubt fascinated herself at people's willingness to spill the beans for that modicum of glory you can get by being quoted in The New Yorker (or the subsequent book). At another point Malcolm reveals that she was so alarmed at the apparent lunacy of one witness in the trial (whom she interviewed) that she 'meddled with the story I was reporting." It's Malcolm's honesty that makes her writing so compelling. You sense that she isn't sure if she is qualified to decide whether Ms. Borukhova is really guilty and that anything she writes is tainted by her own biases. Yet she isn't sure that the jury system is any better. Who is more suspect: a lying, conniving journalist or the paid lunatics who populate the court system?
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
So Much for Common Law, What About an Inquisitorial System? 25 Nov. 2011
By Martin Chorich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Readers expecting a True Crime potboiler should go elsewhere. Instead, we have Janet Malcolm, a literary journalist strongly influenced by psychology and structuralism inquiring, into the possibility of justice in an adversarial trial system. She analyzes the Borukhova case as matter of competing narratives offered by prosecution and defense with a judge acting in a triple role of ringmaster, spectator, and sentencing oracle. Needless to say, while trials of this kind make for good theater, they have a hit-and-miss approach to getting at the truth of matters. Frankly, the hard evidence points towards Ms. Borukhova's guilt, but the theatrics of the system require the prosecutor to go beyond factual presentation and into layering on the story-telling necessary for the jury to visualize and actuate a guilty verdict. The defense tells stories, too, aimed at disrupting the prosecutor's portrait of the defendant as a stressed-out but legally guilty orchestrator of a murder for hire. Malcolm's post-trial interviews with jury members indicate that their perceptions of the defendant's demeanor, personal appearance, and inability to culturally connect influenced them to accept the prosecution narrative, especially the elements that depart from physical or witness evidence of the crime itself.

On the whole, this makes for an interesting book, but Malcolm has covered this ground before. From a structuralist point of view, she clearly finds adversarial trial system an absurdity if truth telling is important to the legal system. I'd be very interested to see her apply the same analytical framework to European-style inquisitorial criminal justice procedures. Do they do a better job of things, or is human justice impossible?
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"A Sad but Colorful Account" 14 July 2011
By Cary B. Barad - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a highly personalized, non-fiction account of an unusual true-to-life murder case, easily read in one sitting and characterized by an exceptional eye for human detail. The victim and the accused were reared in an esoteric immigrant community, the flavor of which Malcolm astutely captures in a colorful, sympathetic fashion.

The author also manages to interject herself into the legal proceedings themselves, which may or may not raise some ethical questions. All things said, this is a very good "court trial book". Many will find it to be a well-written, worthwhile read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Rooting is in Our Blood 6 May 2013
By MJS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is not a true crime book and Janet Malcolm is not an author who seeks to entertain. Nor is she the sort of author who fades into the background of her writing. More often than not, a critique of any of her books becomes a critique of her. Fortunately Malcolm is as ready to rumble as any star of the WWE. To read any of Malcolm's work for a dispassionate recitation of events is to be disappointed and to, well, miss the point. She seeks to understand what the events reveal about us. She does not stand on the sidelines and pretend to be unbiased - she has an opinion and she draws conclusions.

The bare facts are: Mazoltuv Borukhova is accused of hiring an assassin to murder his husband in front of her. Borukhova and the hired killer are put on trial, a highly imperfect trial in Malcolm's estimation. Her idiosyncratic take is on every page: "But rooting is in our blood; we take sides as we take breaths." It takes a bold writer to indulge in this herself: "That's what I think was going on. No one will ever be able to prove it. But that's exactly what happened."

Malcolm wants readers to see that we all impose our own interpretation on the testimony. We construct our own narrative, based on our own experiences and prejudices. We may seek the truth, but our version becomes the truth. "We explain and blame. We are connoisseurs of certainty." She offers her own version and, be warned, she is sympathetic to Borukhova. Malcolm wants to know what drove events and expands her search beyond what is said in court.

If you haven't like Malcolm's earlier books, you won't like this one. I have a soft spot for a writer who can sidle up to a prospective interview and offer the following reporter's come on "I went up to him and asked if Anna Freud's project ... had been an influence on his work." Combine that unashamedly intellectually approach with Malcolm's pointed ruminations on the impossibility of narrowing accountability for a crime into a narrative that will fit into a courtroom and you have a compelling, unsettling book.
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