THE SACRIFICIAL CIRCUMCISION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Arthur Nersesianís The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx is the second novel in his projected five book series The Books of Moses, examining the legacy of Robert Moses on the city of New York. Although most of the novel stands on its own, notably the sections about Paul Moses, other parts, looking at the refugee Uli, seem to need knowledge of the earlier novel in the series, The Swing Voter of Staten Island to make any sense.
The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx focuses on Paul Moses, the eldest scion of a wealthy New York family. His romance with Millicent Sanchez-Rothschild, a Mexican Jew who Paulís mother insists on calling the shiksa, strains his relationship with the rest of his family, especially after he follows her down to Mexico to fight in the revolution against Porfirio DŪaz. Although Paul isnít a revolutionary, himself, he is a decent human being who does care for and about Millie.
After Paul returns to the United States, however, his relationship with his family in a tatters, he begins to obsess on his younger brotherís success. Robert Moses (and Paul) was an historical figure who helped shape the New York City of the latter Twentieth Century. In the novel, Paul Moses comes to see his brother as evil and vindictive, especially in his pursuit of the creation of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which directly impactís Paulís life in Tremont. It is this splitting of the Bronx that the title of the novel refers to.
At the beginning of the novel, Paul is shown as a sympathetic and competent character, but as he allows his hatred of his brother to take over more and more of his life, he becomes less and less sympathetic and his abilities are allowed to go to waste. In the end, the reader is almost more sympathetic with the evil Robert Moses than with the whiny Paul.
The section of the novel that deals with Paul is a straightforward narrative of a manís decay based on his own jealousies. Interspersed through the novel, however, are short sections that focus on Uli, who appears to be living in a post apocalyptic world, possibly caused by Paulís irrational hatred, although that is not made clear in the novel. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that Uliís story makes more sense to those who have read The Swing Voter of Staten Island, or will make sense by the time the fifth novel is published, however, those sections of The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx mean that this novel does not stand on its own.The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx is an interesting character study of a man who allows petty jealousy ruin his life. Unfortunately, he isnít balanced by enough sympathetic characters to really make the reader want to find out what happens to him and whether he finds redemption. Furthermore, the interspersing of Uliís saga without any clearly defined links to the primary story further alienates the reader as they wonder if any link will be worth their time.
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