In this bewitching tale, fictional characters,the African American couple Horace and Joleen Littlejohn, interact with a real historical character, boxing champion Max Baer. Presenting themselves as husband and wife, Horace and Joleen are, in fact, brother and sister. They become constant companions and sometime lovers to Max in this story about Max’s life in and out of the ring.
Jay Neugeboren, author of award-winning novels (The Stolen Jew, Before My Life Began, 1940, The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company, and Poli); nonfiction (Imagining Robert, Transforming Madness); and four collections of prize-winning stories.His essays and stories have appeared widely—in the New York Review of Books, the Atlantic Monthly, the American Scholar, Psychiatric Services, Black Clock, Ploughshares, Commonweal, Moment, Hadassah, and the New York Times—and have been reprinted in more than 50 anthologies, including Best American Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories. The recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, he was a professor and writer-in-residence for many years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has also taught at Stanford, Columbia, and the State University of New York at Old Westbury. He now lives and writes in New York City.
“With Max Baer and the Star of David, Jay Neugeboren creates a pair of distinctive fictional characters and deposits them into the life of the legendary Depression-era boxer. The writing is strong and the characters memorable…. Despite the title, Baer is only a side character in the story. The book includes the key milestones in his boxing career—the fight that killed Baer’s opponent Frankie Campbell, the clash with German fighter Max Schmeling from which the book gets its title, the surprise loss to James Braddock…. But Baer’s life is mostly used to provide an outline for the story of Neugeboren’s fictional narrator, Horace Littlejohn…The real story…is Horace’s. He confronts family patterns and fights some important battles outside the ring. The author tells this story well.”—JEFF FLEISCHER, Foreword Reviews
“Max Baer and the Star of David is a novel, nominally about its titular character, a boxer who wore a Star of David on his shorts and gave fatal blows to two fighters….The true hero of the book is imagination, which allows all characters escape from their lives. The facts behind the plot of the novel are true…Seeing all the real drama in this character’s life, it is hard to imagine what more a fiction writer could add. Jay Neugeboren, however, delivers expanded blows in prose….The book is much more than sports writing. Commentary on the Song of Songs is woven into its pages, as is discussion of love – both of the heterosexual and homosexual variety, sometimes by the same character, as well as interracial relationships. A blind character is in there too, as well as incest and disguised identities, which appear as themes….Even readers who don’t think themselves interested in sports will enjoy the descriptions and plot developments… For any reader who cares about good writing and imagination, lover of boxing or not, Max Baer and the Star of David is required reading."—BETH KISSILEFF, The Jerusalem Post
“Max Baer and the Star of David is a strange and strangely beautiful tale that conjures up a golden era of boxing in the way A. J. Liebling did in The Sweet Science. I was enchanted from start to finish, and when I closed the book I thought ‘Damn, this dude can write!’" —GARY SHTEYNGART, author of Little Failure: A Memoir
“This lively, high-spirited novel is an irresistible tribute to the sweet science, and a thrillingly jaunty evocation of an almost forgotten era. Neugeboren has, as always, the gift of creating vivid characters and the imagination to put them through delicious travails.”—PHILLIP LOPATE, author of Portrait Inside My Head
“One of the most accomplished and original writers of our time, Jay Neugeboren has now outdone even himself. With its larger-than-life characters who are all too human, Max Baer and the Star of David is a powerful and starkly gritty literary page-turner. Sorry, but I can't resist--this novel is a total knockout.”—BINNIE KIRSCHENBAUM, Hester Among the Ruins
“Max Baer and The Star of David reside at the rough, mysterious edge between history and myth. The book will bewitch readers with its own powerful song and haunting love story, filled with regret and a deep rage against America's racial sins, past and present.” —JEROME CHARYN, author of I Am Abraham
''Neugeboren's latest novel will captivate readers through its language and the characters' complicated relationships." —Edyt Dickstein, Jewish Book Council
The writing of successful historical fiction is the sweet science of turning real-world figures into believable, fascinating characters and of molding the known events of their lives into dramatic stories. Max Baer and the Star of David…is an exciting blend of fact and fiction… with its fancy footwork: a cast of characters that combat my blood-sport stereotypes and a plot that blocks, ducks, and jabs at just the right times. Is it a knockout of a novel? Not quite, but it wins on points….(and while) I still need some convincing that boxing is truly a “sweet science,” Max Baer and the Star of David is definitely an example of the sweet science of plotting and writing excellent fiction. That Neugeboren is a master practitioner of this science, there is no doubt.—Jason Hess, NewPages.com
Neugeboren has created fictional characters that interact with boxing champion Max Baer. At the center of the novel are two mysterious and memorable fictional creations, Horace and Joleen Littlejohn, who were constantly with Baer and who presented themselves to the world as husband and wife, when, in fact, they were brother and sister. They become best friends and sometime lovers to Max in this dazzling story about the world of boxing, and about Max’s life in and out of the ring. Horace is the narrator of the story and he takes us into an interracial love triangle that is set in a world where love and violence are part of the way things happen. So we not only learn about the golden age of boxing but also about breaking a taboo. The characters are epic and the story is fascinating, one that you will want to read over and over again.—Amos Lassen, Judaica
Max Baer and the Star of David: A Novel