Book Review: Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen

On The Shelf: A new novel by Joshua Cohen

The Book of Joshua (Cohen)

There is a harsh comparison drawn between Israeli veterans and American veterans in Joshua Cohen's newest novel, Moving Kings; likewise a contrast of the divergent cultures of the allied powers. Of course with a main character named David King, it's also hard to miss the biblical metaphors throughout (his previous novel is titled The Book of Numbers, perhaps the next will be The Judges Chronicles, who knows?) . But the focus here is on two ex-IDF infantrymen, Yoav and Uri. Yoav happens to be the Israeli first cousin-once-removed of the American King: a conservative business owner, whose work in the trenches of NYC includes moving evicted tenants and their stuff out into the street; and beyond. Uri is Yoav's brother-in-arms, friend, "squadmate". Both wind up working for King's Moving Inc. humping furniture mostly in the outer boroughs.

Cohen splits the story into three parts. First introducing us to David King and his little empire, complete with allusion to his visits in Israel: initially when young to visit a lost uncle with his mother and father, second fresh from college on a Kibbutz, and finally as a well-off businessman primarily to establish a tax shelter, ostensibly to visit his cousin Dina and her family (including the young Yoav). David is the ugly American, gaming the system, thriving off the misfortune of others, cutting corners, employing borderline types on the cheap. A capitalist.

Joshua Cohen
The second part features both Yoav and Uri, their experience as Israeli soldiers, by extension of simply being citizens of Israel, and the aftermath of military service. It's traditional to take some time, a year or so, after compulsory duty, for rest and relaxation. Thus Yoav to the states, and after some time dicking around at home, Uri to follow. Working for David as eviction movers keeps them busy, yet often induces flashbacks to the degradation of home invasion, a routine and ineluctable duty of the IDF. The young veterans find it difficult to escape the militaristic lifestyle, are more comfortable in the role of soldier even as submerged in the DMZs of Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The final part acquaints the reader with one Avery Luter, a Vietnam veteran, convert to Islam, toll collector. Luter is the missing puzzle piece, a metaphor for failure, not his own but America's. Cohen uses the character of Luter as a kind of fuse, reignited to illuminate or remind us of the calamitous slice of stateside history which is still vitally consequential, still evincing societal repercussions; the buried ember of a lost war that may never extinguish. 

The author-- if one can stomach his eccentricity of language like the use of invented compound words, obscure patois, and Pynchonesque structure-- delivers a stupefying belly punch of a novel, by turns comic and painful to experience.

~ 4.3 Stars

  • Title: Moving Kings
  • Author: Joshua Cohen
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (July 11, 2017)
  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • ASIN: B01M64VAFR