The Village Idiot: Book summary and reviews of The Village Idiot by Steve Stern

The Village Idiot

by Steve Stern

The Village Idiot by Steve Stern X
The Village Idiot by Steve Stern
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  • Published Sep 2022
    368 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

A wild, effervescent, absinthe-soaked novel that tells of the life of the extraordinary artist Chaim Soutine.

Steve Stern's astonishing new novel The Village Idiot begins on a glorious spring day in Paris 1917. Amid the carnage of World War I, some of the foremost artists of the age have chosen to stage a boat race. At the head of the regatta is Amedeo Modigliani, seated regally in a bathtub pulled by a flock of canvasback ducks. But unbeknownst to the competition, he has a secret advantage: his young friend, the immigrant painter Chaim Soutine, is hauling the tub from underwater. Soutine, an unwashed, misfit artist (who incidentally can't swim) has been persuaded by the Italian to don a ponderous diving suit and trudge along the floor of the river Seine. Disoriented and confused by the artificial air in his helmet Chaim stumbles through the events of his past and future life.

It's quite an extraordinary life. From his impoverished beginnings in an East European shtetl to his equally destitute days in Paris during the Années Folles, the Crazy Years, from the Cinderella patronage of the American collector Albert Barnes, who raises him from poverty to international attention, to his perilous flight from the Nazi occupation of France, Chaim Soutine remains driven by his unrelenting passion to paint.

To be sure, there are notable distractions, such as his unlikely friendship with Modigliani, who drags him from brothels to midnight felonies to a duel at dawn; there are the romances with remarkable women who compete with and sometimes salvage his obsession. But there is also, always on the horizon, the coming storm that threatens to sweep away Chaim and a generation of gifted Jewish refugees from a tradition that would outlaw their longing to make art.

Wildly inventive, as funny as it is heart-breaking, The Village Idiot is a luminous fever-dream of a novel, steeped in the heady atmosphere of a Paris that was the cultural capital of the universe, a place where anything seemed possible.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Stern brings the slovenly, uncouth, and smelly Chaim to life as a modern art visionary, adding humor and heartache to the inspired artist's painful and tragic life, and he shines in his use of Jewish folklore and characters. This luscious blend of fantasy and reality captivates." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Poignant, richly colorful... An outstanding portrait by a writer at the top of his form." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In an act of resounding creative alchemy, audaciously imaginative Stern combines his fascination with Jewish folktales and mysticism with the life and work of painter Chaim Soutine, forging saturated, gleaming, and tumultuous prose that captures the vision and vehemence of Soutine's thickly textured, writhing, nearly hallucinatory paintings....Stern's kinetically inventive and insightful homage is incandescent, riveting, and revelatory in its wrestling with the mysteries of creativity and the scourge of antisemitism." - Booklist (starred review)

This information about The Village Idiot was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Stern's fiction, with its deep grounding in Yiddish folklore, has prompted critics such as Cynthia Ozick to hail him as the successor to Isaac Bashevis Singer. He has won two Pushcart Prizes, an O'Henry Award, a Pushcart Writers' Choice Award and a National Jewish Book Award. For thirty years, Stern taught at Skidmore College, the majority of those years as Writer-in-Residence. He has also been a Fulbright lecturer at Bar Elan University in Tel Aviv, the Moss Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Memphis, and Lecturer in Jewish Studies for the Prague Summer Seminars. Stern splits his time between Brooklyn and Ballston Spa, New York.

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