The Moldavian Pimp

Written by Edgardo Cozarinsky (trans.Nick Caistor)
Review by Janet Hancock

In present-day Buenos Aires, the narrator, a journalism student, begins a dissertation about early 20th century Yiddish theatre. He finds the script of a 1920s Yiddish play entitled The Moldavian Pimp, performed in a poor Jewish area of the city, whence had emigrated tens of thousands of Jews from Russia. The play tells of Jewish girls from the shtetls of the Ukraine recruited by Jewish pimps, promised freedom and a new life in Argentina only to find themselves sold into prostitution. By the late ´20s, the Jewish gang Zwi Migdal was estimated to control about 2,000 brothels and 20,000 prostitutes in Argentina. Complicit, even phony, rabbis conducted marriage ceremonies which bound the victims to the men who exploited them. Considered unworthy of traditional funeral rites, not even worth remembering, the women were buried in secret cemeteries.

This the stuff of saga, yet Argentinian author Edgardo Cozarinsky concentrates on the essence of the story, a distillation into a few precise events. There is no linear conclusive narrative, more a space where different stories meet, blurring fact and fiction: strange encounters, unexpected revelations, uneasy coincidences; the fate of Jewish girls brought to 1920s Argentina is mirrored by that of a Kosovar girl in Paris of 2000 working the stretch of road between the A4 and the périphérique. The novel is peopled with memorable, if tragic, characters; their stories unfold with sensual imagery: the smell of the sea on the beaten earth patio of a brothel in a moment of peace between clients, for a girl who does not know when or where she was born; the smell of disinfectant years later as she lies dying of consumption; the haunting melodies of tango, in early 20th century Argentina the preserve of pimps and low-lifers. A moving glimpse into a little-known twilight society.