'Jew' is a deeply disturbing novella. Any book that begins with a naked man crawling his way out from under a pile of dead bodies isn't going to be the cheeriest of reads. This is not a book for the faint-of-heart nor the recently lunched. At a little over 170 pages with large print, wide line spacing and blank pages between chapters, 'Jew' can easily be read in one sitting. The relentlessly gloomy nature of the story might, however, make you want to take a break.
The man who climbs out from the bodies is never named, and neither are any of the other characters. This, combined with the author's lyrical language, make for an ethereal reading experience.
The man finds a uniform, comes across another man who looks exactly like himself, shoots him and then gets into his car. From then on he becomes 'the commander', visiting a ghetto reminiscent of those in Nazi Germany. In fact, he is somewhere else. Somewhere that remains unspecified. Along the way the man is subjected to, takes part in and witnesses, the worst that humanity can offer.
Due to the deliberately obscure setting and slight characterisation, I often found it hard to grasp exactly what was happening, or moreover the significance of what I was reading. Some reviewers here have said this is not a novel of the Holocaust, but I would disagree. The setting is not Europe in the 1940s, but 'Jew' is about crimes against humanity, past, present and future. I think the author's point is that the power to do great evil is within each of us, but most people refuse to recognise it. By making the identities of his characters interchangeable, Dodd lends his protagonist a malleable moral viewpoint. Its an interesting device, and discomfiting to read.
That said, this is an unpleasant book. It was hard to shake the feeling that the harsh and almost casual violence was gratuitous, intended to shock, rather than make any constructive point. I have seen Cormac Mcarthy's 'The Road' described as 'little more than sadistic porn...used as an excuse to indulge in the salacious voyeurism of suffering.' a view, which for that book, I did not agree with. Yet these words came to mind whilst reading 'Jew'.
So ,'Jew' is a book I am intrigued by, yet find difficult to recommend. If I were to give this book to somebody, and say 'read this, you might enjoy it.' they would probably never speak to me again! This is not a book to be enjoyed, but one to be endured. Yet, if I were to sit down with somebody who had read Jew, I imagine we could to talk about it for hours.