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I Pity the Poor Immigrant

3.21  ·  Rating details ·  235 ratings  ·  54 reviews
This stunning novel by the author of Sway is another "brilliant portrayal of life as a legend" (Margot Livesey).

In 1972, the American gangster Meyer Lansky petitions the Israeli government for citizenship. His request is denied, and he is returned to the U.S. to stand trial. He leaves behind a mistress in Tel Aviv, a Holocaust survivor named Gila Konig.

In 2009, American
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.21  · 
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Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
This is a book about identity. Its characters -- some fictional, some historical -- are actual or metaphorical immigrants, products of the turbulence of Jewish history. Meyer Lansky fled pogroms in Eastern Europe, became a notorious American gangster and, denied citizenship by Israel, returns to the U.S. to face charges; Gila Konig, concentration camp survivor and Lansky's mistress, never at home in Israel, emigrates to New York but always feels herself a refugee; Hannah Groff, a journalist who ...more
Uwe Hook
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Zachary Lazar is a university professor of English, and a renowned author of three previous novels. Reading his fourth novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, was a frustrating experience, because I knew I should be enjoying it more than I was, and that it really should be a better novel than it seemed to be.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant is a multi-layered story that crosses times and oceans. When an American journalist travels to Israel to cover of the murder of a writer, she discovers more about her own
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received this free from a Goodreads Giveaway.

This story is from several different perspectives which made it a little confusing in parts but it all comes together. The relationships and personalities are all well written. It's a good mix of family relationships, a murder mystery plus some religious history thrown in. As I reached the end, I was getting nervous that I wasn't going to find out who committed the crime and was on the edge of my seat. I kept checking to see how many pages were left
May 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was very interested in the three stories interwoven in this novel: the real life gangster Meyer Lansky's, the fictional Israeli poet David Bellen's, and the Jewish American journalist's. However, I hated the way the author jumped back and forth between the characters and between time periods And I never saw the point of the novel itself. Seems like the author just wanted to say how complicated and conflicted are the lives of Jews and the state of Israel. This is an awkward paragraph - just lik ...more
May 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book requires attentiveness. The narrative jumps between stories and chronologically, but it was worth the effort. It's one of those books were the stories the author is telling add up to much more than their literal sum. ...more
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well written and researched, but requires attentive reading as it jumps around a lot chronologically as well as location wise. Probably worth re-reading, especially for readers with ADD.
Joanna  Mongelluzzo
Jun 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
The description of the book was promising but the book itself was not catchy; didn't flow well and the characters were not to be liked.
I was unable to finish this book.
Oct 19, 2016 rated it liked it
While admirably succeeding to knit interwoven stories, add fragments of reality and history and mix them until becoming myths and then breaking the myths into pieces, telling the story was relegated to the second or third place. In the corners of almost every page there are details that you hope to get together to explain or deny an enigma, but they end up like simple details and nothing more. When talking politics, there is so much oversimplification but maybe there is just the same 'mystificat ...more
John Magee
Sep 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Had high hopes but couldn't really get into it. ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
An informative look into the various facets of Jewish identity.
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book was one where I had to pay attention at all times while reading it, or else I could have been thrown off track, regarding the characters.

Jeff Scott
The story of Israel is the story of immigration. Whether it is those early pioneers who began the country, or those who immigrated later on, the extreme hardship and loss is profound. Zachary chooses to tell this story through the eyes of a reporter, his mistress, a writer, and a gangster.

Meyer Lansky was once known as the accountant to major organized crime, fictionalized in The Godfather movies. He was also a Jewish gangster who was denied immigration to Israel on the wane of his career. Davi
Catherine Woodman
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
So, yes, this book is titled like the Bob Dylan song:

I pity the poor immigrant

ho wishes he would’ve stayed home

Who uses all his power to do evil

But in the end is always left so alone

That man whom with his fingers cheats

And who lies with ev’ry breath

Who passionately hates his life

And likewise, fears his death

This is a book about outsiders and immigrants and crime bosses and escaping justice. Journalist Hannah Groff travels to Israel to investigate the murder of poet David Bellen. Over the course
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
I received an advance reader's copy of this novel through the goodreads giveaway program in exchange for a review.

Zachary Lazar’s new novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant: A Novel, tells the fictionalized story of American gangster Meyer Lansky, Israeli poet David Bellen and American journalist Hannah Groff; intertwined within the stories of all these individuals is that of Gila Konig, and how she comes into each of their lives. This was at first a difficult novel to read and follow because the auth
Johanna Miklos
May 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
I loved the title.

I am glad I read this book in hard copy and not on a device. How do readers cope on a device when the structure of the story is fragmented? I was constantly flipping back and forth to follow the timeline of the piece.

There are endless layers in this slim book: from King David (biblical complete with psalms and his life story as stated and interpreted)to the present day unreliable narrator who sets out to write a memoir through the lives of others. I tried to take a single laye
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really liked the parts about Meyer Lansky and birth of the Jewish mafia, but didn't really like the rest, so overall I can only rate this an "it was okay." The novels blends several story lines. The first, and most interesting one, is about (one of?) Lansky's mistresses, an Israeli hotel waitress whom he meets late in life, when he's applying for Israeli citizenship. Other plots include the death of an Israeli poet, his son''s drug overdose, the daughter covering the story, her affair with her ...more
This is a difficult novel to review. One one hand, it was for the most part well written, with moments of brilliance. On the other hand, it frenetically jumped around between three different times, places and various characters, which frequently made me lose interest, put it down, and then have to later re-read several pages to remind me where I was and what point the author was trying to make. I'm not Jewish; perhaps if I was, it would have held a deeper meaning for me, since it deals primarily ...more
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2014
A novel that reads like an authentic memoir. Zachary Lazar's "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" was a wonderful discovery. I thought that I would be reading a fictional version of Meyer Lansky's life. While Meyer Lansky does have a significance presence in the story, I was delightfully surprised to find that I was reading a novel that wrestles with contemporary issues of what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century in America and in Israel.

A worth addition to contemporary American Jewish literature.
Chris Wharton
A disjointed (intentionally so) tale of Jewish uprootedness in America and Israel. Through a web of mutual acquaintances and contacts, including the American Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky and Holocaust survivors and descendants, the young woman reporter/narrator pursues the story of a mysteriously murdered Israeli writer. Some parts quite good -- edgy in the mode of Lazar’s Sway about the early Rolling Stones from a few years ago (which I liked a lot) -- but I bogged down and rushed through some ...more
Michael Milgrom
May 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a high-concept book. I wish I knew what the concept was. The author succeeds in writing a book with a first person narrator of the opposite sex, but the bar is pretty low. Most of the time the narrator is simply thinking like a generic journalist. This is basically a rumination on immigrants and Jews and not terribly original or deep. I wanted to like this book because Adam Kirsch gave it a good review in Tablet. I'm losing faith in him as a reviewer. ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it
I wish I could give this anohter half star. I like it, although it never completely came together for me. It's about a journalist writing about the death of an Israeli poet whose final work was on Meyer Lansky. In the course of her research, she relaizes that someone in her own life had ties to Lansky as well and it goes from there. Very fragmented, more a meditation on identity, Jewishness, memory, than a novel and one that intrigued more than it satisifed. ...more
Joelle Klein
Sep 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Wish they had half star ratings. Would give it a 3 1/2. I found the story interesting and the book hard to put down, but at little confusing at the end. Found the choppy, jumping around narrative irritating at times. I enjoyed the familiar references to Israeli streets and towns. It piqued my interest in Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Seigel and I'm now interested in reading up on both of them. Would I recommend it? I think yes. ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
I appreciated the intent of this novel but felt it was poorly executed, with layer upon layer of stories that were more confusing than artful. We also got too little of the most interesting characters - Gila and Meyer Lansky - and the ending was disappointing. Why tell us what exactly happened to Bellen? Why not keep us suspended, thinking about all the possibilities? That would've been more artful, I think. ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
To be quite honest.. even after reaching the last line of the book, I really didn't understand what the author was trying to say. Everything was so confusing, Who the heck is Bellen, Lansky, who is telling the story, is it Hannah or Gila... I kept on and on simply because I hoped there would be an "eureka!" part in the story, but unfortunately, the only sound I made was after finishing the book - and it was a sigh of relief. ...more
Jun 22, 2014 rated it liked it
I did learn a lot about Jewish identity from the book. However, it was a hard read. The book covers many different people in diff times and places. When a new section would begin-it would take me awhile to figure out who was talking, and when and where we were at. Maybe not a good book to read late at night!
Dec 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
I received this as a Goodreads win. Was thrilled. I tried several times to read the whole book, but it just didn't interest me. Sorry to say I did not enjoy it and could not finish it. I did pass it on though to another avid reader who thought it might be a good read. When I pass on books, I ask that the book keep being passed so others may enjoy. ...more
Feb 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book was a fairly easy read and it told an interesting story but I really did not enjoy the delivery. The story jumped back and forth in time with little or no indications on which time it was in at any given point. The characters were unlikable. couldn't wait to finish it and move on. ...more
John Dalton
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An altogether remarkable book. A novel for well-read literary readers who want to see the very hard to grasp mysteries of identity and spiritual dislocation rendered with amazing clarity. Profound. This book goes deep. It can stand with the work of W.G. Sebald, Rachel Kushner, Don DeLillo.
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very complex novel how the unlikely stories of Meyer Lanksy, a crime reporter and an Israeli poet intertwine. Told from several points of view and moving back and forth in time. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Want to read Sway by same author.
Aug 14, 2014 rated it liked it
I didn't think the build up of the "amazing connections" between the characters was worth the payoff. I know it's a commentary on Israel, and it works on that level, but the resolution between the characters playing out the metaphor was a bit flat. ...more
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25 likes · 5 comments
“For everything man does has significance. An evil act will generally cause some disruption or negative reaction in the vast system of the Sefirot; and a good act, correct or raise things to a higher level. Each of the reactions extends out into all of the worlds and comes back into our own, back upon ourselves, in one form or another.” 1 likes
“In writing this book, I have come to feel like a kind of immigrant in my own life, inhabiting a world of reflections and images of people I can't fully know, some of whom are dead, and I see now that my life has been shaped by this network, in ways I didn't always perceive.” 0 likes
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