Author pitches woo to N.Y. Times critic Kakutani

His character thinks Michiko is Finnish.

Topics: Books,

Look at the tiny classifieds at the bottom of the New York Times’ front page and you’ll often find reminders to Jewish women to light their Sabbath candles. Lately, “King of the Jews” author Leslie Epstein has been using those little ads to light a bigger fire — with New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani.

In the Oct. 29 front-page classifieds, Leib Goldkorn — the bumbling, unstable 94-year-old protagonist from Epstein’s latest novel, “Ice Fire Water” — implores the veteran reviewer to ring his bell: “Dear Sweet Michiko K. — Call Your Leib Goldkorn.” The indefatigable Goldkorn plans to send Kakutani another, more heated message on Monday, which will read: “Yoo-hoo! My Cute Kakutani! — Leib Goldkorn is calling.”

In Epstein’s latest novel, Goldkorn, a Holocaust refugee and novelist, is smitten by Kakutani, who gave him the most favorable review of his career. Goldkorn mistakenly believes that Kakutani, in reality of Japanese descent, is Finnish, and he fantasizes about being beaten by her in a sauna. At one bittersweet point in “Ice Fire Water,” Goldkorn invites Kakutani to lunch at the Court of Palms in New York’s Plaza Hotel to thank her for her review; when she shows up, the slightly deluded author mistakes her for a cleaning lady.

You Might Also Like

Epstein, however, does not share his character’s luck with the critic. He invited her to a reading in New York on Friday, but Kakutani — famous in publishing circles for her reclusiveness — didn’t show. “There was one Japanese lady there, but I don’t think it was her,” Epstein said from his home in Boston. (Kakutani did not respond to requests for comment.)

Epstein has spent almost $10,000 of his own money on Times front-page classified advertising for “Ice Fire Water.” The debut ad read: “Jewish Women/Girls. Gentiles Too! — Leib Goldkorn is back.” The ads have referred not only to Kakutani, but also to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former bathing beauty Esther Williams, who both make cameos in the novel. “The house was originally concerned that he was spending so much money on these ads when it could have been spent on more traditional venues,” says Robert Weil, Epstein’s editor at W.W. Norton.

Epstein, it seems, has hit on an imaginative strategy to lure Kakutani into writing a review of “Ice Fire Water.” However, although she praised his 1985 book “Goldkorn Tales,” so far, Kakutani isn’t biting. “He was very much hoping she would respond. He was very disappointed,” Weil said. As much trouble as Epstein may have in getting Kakutani’s attention, other reviewers have certainly taken notice. In the Los Angeles Times, Steven G. Kellman calls the novel a “masterly blend of the plangent and the preposterous” and Goldkorn “the Mr. Magoo of Holocaust survivors.” The New York Times Book Review lavished heavy praise on the novel — and also used a cartoon analogy for Goldkorn. “Leib owes more to Pepe Le Pew than Don Juan,” writes D.T. Max.

Other book critics at the New York Times might want to check out the novel for different reasons. “Richard Eder has a big speaking part,” Epstein said. “He’s a hustler phone sex guy. His name is Bitch Adder.” The late Book Review editor Anatole Broyard, whom Epstein characterizes as “the worst critic who ever lived, I think,” appears as Anatole Boudoir. Another Times critic, Richard Bernstein, turns up as Kakutani’s assistant who sends Goldkorn a note instructing him to meet Kakutani for that ill-fated lunch at the Court of Palms.

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>