The powerHouse Arena invites you to a reading and discussion:
Opera Buffa with Leib Goldkorn
Thursday, March 8, 7–9 pm
The powerHouse Arena · 37 Main Street (corner of Water & Main St.) · DUMBO, Brooklyn
For more information, please call 718.666.3049
Revered novelist Leslie Epstein comes to the store with his new novel, Liebestod: Opera Buffa with Leib Goldkorn, which revisits Epstein's most compelling literary character, European émigré and meagerly successful musician Leib Goldkorn.
At the age of 103, Leib Goldkorn is about to stick his head in an oven. Why? The woman he is obsessed with has slapped him with a restraining order for harassment. He is also dirt poor, living without electricity in an Upper West Side apartment that his landlord wants to sell as a million-dollar condominium. He has even pawned his beloved flute.
Then arrives the letter that changes everything...
So begins Liebestod: Opera Buffa with Leib Goldkorn, the latest madcap novel starring Leib Goldkorn, the wandering musician who graduated in 1916 from the Akademie fur Musik, Philosophie, und darstellende Kunst in Vienna, survived World War II, and is still going after a century of randy adventures.
The aging flautist first appeared to readers in The Steinway Quintet, a novella published in 1976. Goldkorn Tales, published in 1985, expanded the first story, added two others, and received an affectionate review from the New York Times. Ice Fire Water, published in 1999, added another set of three novellas. Each time, Goldkorn travels more deeply into the absurd and the fantastic, including an attempted assassination of Hitler and proposed seduction of Carmen Miranda. In a Goldkorn's hometown of Jihlava, in the Czech Republic, sends the protagonist a letter enticing him to return with the honor of being its last living Jewish citizen. "Jihlava wishes to honor Israel heritage. Is having Holocaust Memorial Festivity," says the letter sent to Goldkorn. He returns to his family house, a surreal homecoming complete with the anachronistic furniture and phonograph records from his childhood, as well as a surprise reunion with the remnants of his family.
But not everything is what it seems. Goldkorn is the legal owner of much of the town, and officials connive to get him to sign away his inheritance. A race riot traps Goldkorn in the family house. In tunnels under the home, his new extended family creates a golem, a magical living statue.
Everything is exaggerated, from the sexual advances made on the now 104-year-old flautist by nearly everyone he meets, including supposed members of his newfound family, to the unbelievable celebrity cameos, including memories of both Adolf Hitler as a young pedophile and Gustav Mahler, who is revealed to be Goldkorn's biological father. Goldkorn himself seems more like a force of nature than a centenarian. He has sex, starves and feasts, and drinks a prodigious amount of alcohol without much of a hangover.
Goldkorn recovers the manuscript of an unknown opera by his father, Gustav Mahler, and returns to New York to translate its libretto from German into his own witty and vulgar style of English, and then conduct its premiere.
In the end, however, the story returns to the conflict between comedy and brutality, with the forces of life and the forces of death locked in a deadly standoff in Lincoln Center. The Holocaust casts its shadow over the whole book—and over Goldkorn's life. A multilayered masterpiece of fevered imagination and eroticism, Liebestod soars as the consummate work by one of America's greatest comic geniuses.
About the author:
Leslie Epstein is the author of eleven books including King of the Jews, San Remo Drive, and Pandemonium. The director of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University, he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.