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Rodinsky's Room [Paperback]

Rachel Lichtenstein , Iain Sinclair
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

14 Feb 2000
Rodinsky's world was that of the East European Jewry, cabbalistic speculation, an obsession with language as code and terrible loss. He touched the imagination of artist Rachel Lichtenstein, whose grandparents had left Poland in the thirties. This text weaves together Lichtenstein's quest for Rodinsky -which took her to Poland, to Israel and around Jewish London -with Iain Sinclair's meditations on her journey into her own past, and on the Whitechapel he has reinvented.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (14 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862073295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862073296
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In 1980 a curious discovery was made above a disused synagogue at 19 Princelet Street in the East End of London. A room, summarily abandoned years before, was found with everything more or less in its original state, even down to porridge on the stove and the imprint of a head on a pillow. The room's occupant, David Rodinsky, was a reclusive cabbalistic Jewish scholar who had, one day in the late 60s, simply vanished from his home; what became of him no one knew. The mystery of Rodinsky caused a mild flurry of excitement; writer and East-End chronicler Iain Sinclair wrote an essay for The London Review of Books entitled "The Man Who Became A Room" and subsequently expanded this as a chapter in his book Downriver but it was not until artist Rachel Lichtenstein became involved with the story that the true quest for David Rodinsky began. Lichtenstein's search paralleled her desire to investigate her own Jewish roots; the bond she felt with this elusive man whom no one could describe, of whom not one photograph seemed to exist, was incredible. The resulting book is a unique and fascinating collaboration between Lichtenstein and Sinclair and uses interweaving narratives to recreate the history of Rodinsky, "The Man Who Never Was". Sinclair's speculating, mythology-rich essays on Jewish culture, folklore and history blend skilfully with Lichtenstein's breathless detective story, which becomes as much autobiography as biography as the story gathers pace.--Catherine Taylor

From the Author

Searching more Rodinsky sightings & other Jewish stories
I am always interested to hear more stories from the Jewish East End including any further information about David Rodinsky. Another area of London I am currently researching is Clerkenwell. My specific interest is the Jewish jewellery trade in Hatton Garden.If you have any information you would like to share please e-mail me. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Rachel Lichtenstein's search to piece together the life of David Rodinsky becomes a quest for her own Jewish ancestry. Iain Sinclair, in turn, examines Rachel's personal journey and keeps the narrative more tightly focused. Occasionally I was so irritated by other artists, writers and historians who were appropriating the East End Jewish experience, because they almost seemed to be appropriating the book, that I needed to take a break from it. Only towards the end did their contributions seem entirely relevant. Rachel's emotional involvement with the late David Rodinsky leaves the book somewhere between the personal quest of Theo Richmond's Konin and the sublime dignity of James Agee's and Walker Evans' Lets Us Now Praise Famous Men. I was staying near Konin two years ago and Polish friends persuaded me not to visit the town because there was 'nothing there'. I shall not make the same mistake about Spitalfields. My train ticket is booked and I have already been quizzing my (gentile) father about his memories of that area where he grew up some seventy years ago.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Story transcends the personal 13 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Rachel Litchenstein's account of a search into the clues left behind by the mysterious David Rodinsky is much more than an attempt at a detective-type biography of an enigma. Much more compelling is the way Litchenstein herself has invited the enigma into her own personal search for meaning and healing in her life and Jewish culture.
Her account, written in such clear and evocative prose is imbued with a kind of honesty that is both captivating and rare. Her voice speaks out directly to a generation operating in a culture where irony and supposed distance from culture is all-pervasive, cutting through to what is truly important, namely real people and their experiences, in terms of history, culture and spirituality.
Rachel treats all her 'characters', whether they be her interviewees and advisers during the trail of discovery, or the ghosts of Rodinsky and his family, with immense respect. She not only understands, but embraces the idea that by drawing the stories out, she necessarily incorporates her own into theirs and vice versa. Her energy and tenacity as the story unfolds is very compelling. She also seems to be incredibly 'lucky' during her search, where so many coincidences and chance meetings take on a fateful, spiritual meaning of their own.
It's an idiosyncratic, personal journey through the Jewish East End, Israel and Poland. But the story and approach is so strong that it manages to transcend specific culture in its search for meaning in what it is to be human.
It left me feeling inspired, affirmed and thankful that there are people such as Rachel who are willing to take on the responsibility of being a 'cultural caretaker' for all of our sakes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I agree with at least one other reviewer that this book might have been even more readable if Rachel Lichtenstein had been the sole author. I was not entirely convinced either by Iain Sinclair's chapters. For me his passages were rather a distraction from the central core of the book, Rodinsky's obscure life and the environment around Brick lane which he inhabited. Contrast that with the sincerity, affection and rather touching chapters chronicling Lichtenstein's dogged determination to unravel Rodinsky's life and death circumstances. Wherever one stands in the debate about the balance of the book, no one can argue that it certainly sheds some fascinating insights into aspects of the London Jewish immigrant experience and its historical connections to the communities that once flourished in Eastern Europe, as well as, of course, modern Judaism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eulogy to a sad life 29 July 1999
By A Customer
Seeing a Granta brochure promoting the book, I was immediately attracted - I do have a soft spot for books on scholarly, mysterious Jews scribbling away in attics. Having read the book, I realise my first impressions were just that, but I'm not sorry I got the book. A couple of thoughts come to mind. The first concerns Rachel Lichtenstein, how she is able through her warmth to link with people and get them to help her in her difficult quest to uncover knowledge about David Rodinsky. The number of fortunate encounters and coincidences that occur to her makes one wonder if there is not something holy in this quest. Her stories and the characters she meets in Poland are fascinating. The second concerns David Rodinsky. I found his life story very touching. The thought of a person, lonely in his attic, writing makeshift dialogue moved me to tears. I will not disclose his fate for those who wish to read the book but it is fair to say that through no fault of his own, his immediate family's failure to integrate into East End London life after coming from Russia ultimately sealed his fate. Lichtenstein has done a great service in bringing his story to a greater audience. The nagging question is how many more Rodinskys have there been this century?
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madman or Visionary 4 Dec 2000
David Rodinsky, madman and/or visionary disappeared from his room above a disused East London synagogue, never to be seen again. His room - for that was all that was left -remained locked and lost until it was "rediscovered" in the early 1980's. Is there anything about this room that that makes it special? Stories emerge continually about the reclusive, too confused or too intelligent to deal with the modern world, who are found surrounded by the detritus of their lives. What makes Rodinsky's room different is the absence of a body, we cannot be shown "this is why this is", no pathetic creature stumbling ranting and mumbling to whoever their god is, no closure. It becomes a locked room mystery, the type of fiction made famous by another man more myth than reality, Edgar Allen Poe. The room becomes a cipher, for Rachel Lichtenstein, as she unravels her Jewish heritage, becomes reconciled with it and moves to her future. As for Iain Sinclair - ever the well connected London chancer - the room gives him another pretext for a walk across the pages of the London A - Z. For once his visionary view of London is left flat footed by Litchtenstein's near obsessional quest for Rodinsky and the Jews of East London. Rodinsky's Room is also about time. A room frozen as if on the event horizon of a Black Hole, it also defined the instant of it's rediscovery . Old London was disappearing, the political strife and rubbish filled streets of the late 1970's were swept away under the tide of the new Tory Government .Peter Ackroyd states in his brilliant London The Biography , strife and filth have been central to London for centuries, and some of this past was about to disappear. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Spell-binding.
A detective story, a slice of history and a delve into a vanished era. All deeply researched and well written.
Published 1 month ago by DaiS
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointed.
This type of search after the past always attracts me, and it starts well. But there should have been a warning about the extreme density of Iain Sinclair's prose. Read more
Published on 6 Aug 2006 by Richard A. Bowker
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting topic, could have been written better
Initially, I was very excited to read this book, as I had read the existing reviews and found the topic fascinating. Moreso as a student interested in Jewish history. Read more
Published on 3 Jun 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing piece of research into an unknown person.
I was intrigued by the story of David Rodinsky when I read the first reviews on publication. Having now read it, I would say that it would have been a better read if it had been... Read more
Published on 16 May 2000 by stanmarut@barclays.net
5.0 out of 5 stars A most moving search for roots.
This is a most wonderful search for the true identity of someone who seemed to have no identity. In searching the author finds her own roots and settles her own doubts about her... Read more
Published on 3 April 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars How long can the ghosts remain?
This book, beautifully printed and produced, is the work of two authors driven, in very different ways, to bring contemporary focus from the near past. Read more
Published on 25 July 1999
2.0 out of 5 stars A readable historical insight into the Jewish East End? Nah!
I really wanted this book to provide a readable and interesting insight into David Rodinsky's life here in the East End. Read more
Published on 9 Jun 1999
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