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Scavengers

Following the death of his son in a high school shooting, Neil Downs travels from New York City to New Delhi. Transformed from trauma doctor to bereaved wanderer, Downs encounters others seeking acceptance and transcendence in the wake of their own personal losses. Among them is Holocaust survivor and bilious sage Levi Furstenblum, to whom Downs looks for insight into catastrophe. Excerpts from Furstenblum’s philosophical writings, including a fantasy of Hitler receiving the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize, provide some of the novel’s most indelible chapters. As Downs begins an affair with a widowed Indian activist and reconciles with his estranged wife (who was missing on the day of his son’s death), he comes to grips with the complexities of both personal and political history. And the Word Was deftly incorporates stories of sacrifice from Jewish scripture and Hindu myth and vividly realizes its landscapes, from America to India, past and present. Downs and the other characters in Bruce Bauman’s New Delhi resemble those in the Jerusalem of Robert Stone’s Damascus Gate. Benumbed and deracinated, they scavenge for higher meaning amidst the detritus of both everyday events and moments of theological speculation. Questions about language, what it can and cannot articulate and communicate, are at the core of And the Word Was. Downs tells us from the start that he is “no trickster,” but this admission comes to mean less about the way his tale unfolds than it does about the honest and unguarded emotions it embraces at every turn. Confidently and profoundly exploring the languages of grief, guilt, ravaged memory and lost faith, Bauman’s debut novel traverses the psyche of a man whose personal diaspora and reconnection to the world quietly alter our perception of our own.

AND THE WORD WAS | By Bruce Bauman | Other Press | 350 pages | $24 hardcover