The Jew of New York

Written by Ben Katchor
Review by Jesse Dubuc

A complex story, difficult to describe in any other way than “Vonnegutesque,” The Jew of New York is the rich and varied story (in the form of comic strip panels) of Nathan Kishon, a Jewish man trying desperately, like all others, to make his way and fortune in 1830’s New York City.

Unable to continue his life as a peddler of non-Kosher goods, deeply concerned with the lot of his people, Nathan is swept into a grand pilgrimage, absorbing for himself as much as he can from the lives which touch his. Along the way, he meets a cast of funny, quirky and ultimately sage souls, each of whom has a different view and wisdom to impart. In the process learns a great deal about the culture he has taken for granted.

Profound in content, and superbly illustrated, The Jew of New York expertly depicts the rich interweave of lives and their motives, business savvy and dreams of progress on a grand scale. Detailed reference to the anatomy of the city and its residents provides a strong sense of backdrop. More than a just a city, the sum of the buildings, those who dwell in them, and their activities meld to become what is, in essence, a living thing. Hilarious and at times almost ribald, the journeys of Nathan and his compatriots illustrate the connection between people and their lives, values, interests and purpose, as well as the common links through history that truly make all people one.