The Frozen Rabbi

Written by Steve Stern
Review by Mary F. Burns

Starting with the humorous title, this literary, quasi-historical novel comes with its own background “chuckle track” – you won’t be able to stop laughing. Reminiscent in style and tone of both Philip Roth and Michael Chabon, Stern’s main character – 15-year- old Bernie Karp – finds a frozen man at the bottom of his parents’ freezer (in the very first sentence). Once defrosted, the 19th-century era Polish rabbi embarks on a new life in the almost 21st century that has Bernie leading, then following, then gasping for breath as the journey unfolds with wild ventures, age-old insights and magical thinking that causes more than one kind of trouble.

Stern’s humor is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and the word “zany” comes frequently to mind, especially when the rabbi is on the loose in the outside world. The story zigs and zags between the very beginning and the very end of the 1900s – we learn the history of the frozen rabbi and the family who is entrusted with his care through the generations as we visit Poland and America starting in 1907 and up to 1947; and we skip to the time of young Bernie, at the turn of the millennium, who has discovered the family “keepsake” in the basement, and who begins to be fascinated by the ancient Jewish religion the rabbi urges him to study, a religion his secular parents set aside back in the 1970s. A transcendently comic send-up of both religion and the business of marketing religion, The Frozen Rabbi will have you laughing and shaking your head at the canny wisdom of the ages and the shallow posings of modernity.