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The Ruined House
Cover of The Ruined House
The Ruined House
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

"In The Ruined House a 'small harmless modicum of vanity' turns into an apocalyptic bonfire. Shot through with humor and mystery and insight, Ruby Namdar's wonderful first novel examines how the real and the unreal merge. It's a daring study of madness, masculinity, myth-making and the human fragility that emerges in the mix."

—Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin

Winner of the Sapir Prize, Israel's highest literary award

Picking up the mantle of legendary authors such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, an exquisite literary talent makes his debut with a nuanced and provocative tale of materialism, tradition, faith, and the search for meaning in contemporary American life.

Andrew P. Cohen, a professor of comparative culture at New York University, is at the zenith of his life. Adored by his classes and published in prestigious literary magazines, he is about to receive a coveted promotion—the crowning achievement of an enviable career. He is on excellent terms with Linda, his ex-wife, and his two grown children admire and adore him. His girlfriend, Ann Lee, a former student half his age, offers lively companionship. A man of elevated taste, education, and culture, he is a model of urbanity and success.

But the manicured surface of his world begins to crack when he is visited by a series of strange and inexplicable visions involving an ancient religious ritual that will upend his comfortable life.

Beautiful, mesmerizing, and unsettling, The Ruined House unfolds over the course of one year, as Andrew's world unravels and he is forced to question all his beliefs. Ruby Namdar's brilliant novel embraces the themes of the American Jewish literary canon as it captures the privilege and pedantry of New York intellectual life in the opening years of the twenty-first century.

"In The Ruined House a 'small harmless modicum of vanity' turns into an apocalyptic bonfire. Shot through with humor and mystery and insight, Ruby Namdar's wonderful first novel examines how the real and the unreal merge. It's a daring study of madness, masculinity, myth-making and the human fragility that emerges in the mix."

—Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin

Winner of the Sapir Prize, Israel's highest literary award

Picking up the mantle of legendary authors such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, an exquisite literary talent makes his debut with a nuanced and provocative tale of materialism, tradition, faith, and the search for meaning in contemporary American life.

Andrew P. Cohen, a professor of comparative culture at New York University, is at the zenith of his life. Adored by his classes and published in prestigious literary magazines, he is about to receive a coveted promotion—the crowning achievement of an enviable career. He is on excellent terms with Linda, his ex-wife, and his two grown children admire and adore him. His girlfriend, Ann Lee, a former student half his age, offers lively companionship. A man of elevated taste, education, and culture, he is a model of urbanity and success.

But the manicured surface of his world begins to crack when he is visited by a series of strange and inexplicable visions involving an ancient religious ritual that will upend his comfortable life.

Beautiful, mesmerizing, and unsettling, The Ruined House unfolds over the course of one year, as Andrew's world unravels and he is forced to question all his beliefs. Ruby Namdar's brilliant novel embraces the themes of the American Jewish literary canon as it captures the privilege and pedantry of New York intellectual life in the opening years of the twenty-first century.

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About the Author-
  • Ruby Namdar was born and raised in Jerusalem to a family of Iranian-Jewish heritage. His first book, Haviv (2000), won the Israeli Ministry of Culture's Award for Best First Publication. The Ruined House won the 2014 Sapir Prize—Israel's most important literary award. He currently lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters, and teaches Jewish literature, focusing on biblical and Talmudic narrative.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2017
    An elegant NYU professor at the peak of his powers and pleasures is reduced to a quivering puddle by a violent, unsought, yearlong spiritual awakening.For 52-year-old academic superstar Andrew Cohen, the term charisma is a "cheap inadequacy." "His dress and appearance, his speech and body language, his ideas and their expression--all had a refined aristocratic finish that splendidly gilded everything he touched." He has a 26-year-old girlfriend, Ann Lee, and a stunning apartment overlooking the river; he publishes in the New Yorker; he even has a good relationship with his ex-wife. Was a character ever more cruelly set up for a fall? Namdar's debut follows poor Andrew for a year beginning on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Elul in 5760, or Sept. 6, 2000, when he has the first of many increasingly intense spiritual experiences which will ultimately destroy his sanity and his life. The myriad subsequent chapters are each identified by both a Hebrew and a regular date and grouped into seven "books." These books are separated by pages telling a second story set in ancient Israel and designed in the style of the Talmud, and this is just the tip of the iceberg vis-a-vis the self-importance of this apocalyptic, overwritten, bloated screed against assimilated American Judaism and self-satisfied elite academics. Between the fusillades of exclamatory prose, the innumerable dream sequences, hallucinations, and visions, the detailed and repetitive descriptions of vile pornography and disgusting physical phenomena, the tedious chunks of student papers and other quoted material, the clear hostility of the author toward the main character, the brutally slow pace and repetitive plot development, and the bizarre, ill-advised handling of 9/11, one begins to wonder if Namdar is intentionally punishing the reader. Is S&M a literary genre? Maybe in Israel, where this novel won the Sapir Prize, that country's equivalent of the Man Booker. Consider yourself warned.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2017

    Winner of the 2014 Sapir Prize, Israel's equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, this artfully translated work features Andrew Cohen, a 52-year-old professor of cultural studies at New York University. Urbane and sophisticated, the divorced Cohen lives a stylish, carefully curated existence on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at the turn of the millennium. Though he considers himself a rational, secular, intellectual Jew, with disdain for the garish religiosity of his ancestors, he begins experiencing strange visions involving the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. This existential crisis takes on nightmarish qualities, as his hallucinations as well as his daily encounters begin to offer incessant and tormenting glimpses of death and decay. As the dated chapters move toward what the readers know will be a contemporary slaughter, the tension and horror multiplies. VERDICT Though Cohen's relentless, inexorable decline can get a little repetitive, and the conclusion feels somewhat anticlimactic, this is an imaginative and visionary work about one man's spectacular mid-life crisis, framed by sacred texts and filled with poetic and portentous passages. Reminiscent of the work of Nicole Krauss.--Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 25, 2017
    In Namdar’s disappointing debut, Andrew Cohen, an NYU professor and formerly prolific writer, has a long, slow, incredibly banal mid-life crisis. Stretched out over the year leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Cohen wallows in self-pity, ambling toward a breakdown that reads more like a man grasping at his waning privilege than a human being fearful in the face of mortality. Although Cohen left his ex-wife and daughters decades ago, when the girls were little, only now does he realize how absent they are from his life. Vulnerable for perhaps the first time, he’s haunted by his abandonment of them and yet can’t seem to bring himself to take responsibility. Otherwise, Cohen goes on to suffer from dwindling sexual mojo, writer’s block, and nightmares. He feels suffocated by his beautiful, decades-younger girlfriend (a former student) and doesn’t understand why he isn’t awarded a promotion he’d been expecting. Perhaps because of the unrelenting internal narration, the book remains plotless. Cohen falls asleep, has anxiety attacks, stays awake, rushes into taxis, eats or forgets to eat, and finds himself bewildered by his own dysfunction. In prose as tedious as Cohen’s misery, Namdar tries to underscore the significance of his narrator’s collapse by cataloguing every hour of every day. But Cohen remains the jerk he’s always been, and the reader is left wishing he would see what they do—that his self-absorption only intensifies, rather than dissipates, against the forthcoming tragedy of actual human suffering looming on the horizon.

  • Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine "Namdar redefines what it means to tell a Jewish story... The originality and power of this idea [of Jewishness], along with Namdar's fertile power of observation and evocation, make The Ruined House a new kind of Jewish novel, which everyone interested in Jewish literature should read."
  • Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Week "Poetic...ambitious...a novel to be reread, for its layers of meaning and symbolism, noise and silence, mystical resonances and lyrical passages. [Namdar's] writing, in its deep and close observations, is prayerful."
  • Newsweek, The 50 Coolest Books to Read This Summer: 2018’s Best Fiction and Non-Fiction (So Far) "A wildly original novel about the mental, physical and spiritual undoing of an arrogant college professor—a secular Jew living in elitist New York on the eve of 9/11. Unsettling and beautifully written, Namdar captures the seduction of an ancient religion as the world begins to crack."
  • Library Journal (starred review) "Artfully translated ...An imaginative and visionary work about one man's spectacular mid-life crisis, framed by sacred texts and filled with poetic and portentous passages. Reminiscent of the work of Nicole Krauss."
  • Amos Oz "The Ruined House is a fascinating novel about the overwhelming presence of myth and historical trauma in our lives. A cross between Saul Bellow's disintegrating intellectuals and Bulgakov's mystical revelations, this is a fiercely inventive novel."
  • New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice "Exhilarating..a masterpiece of modern religious literature, exactly as deep, disturbing and unresolved as is necessary to remind us, habituated as we are to the shallows of contemporary Jewish life, what still lurks beneath — primitive, raw and exacting."
  • Washington Book Review, Best Books of the Fall "Beautifully written and will absorb all your attention in first few minutes as you start reading it."
  • BookPage "The Ruined House, which won Israel's biggest literary award (the Sapir Prize), is a fascinatingly claustrophobic year inside Andrew's [the main character's] mind.... A meditation on the isolation of the modern age, when one can live among millions of people in a vibrant city, yet still be utterly alone."
  • Lauren Belfer, New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire, recipient of the National Jewish Book Award "With richly poetic prose, Ruby Namdar portrays a man who leads a successful, comfortable secular life—until he finds himself haunted by religious visions. The Ruined House is shocking, insightful, and deeply disturbing."
  • Mosaic Magazine "Above all, The Ruined House is a keenly observed meditation on the failing inner resources of American Jewry at the dawn of the 21st century."
  • Washington Book Review "Beautifully written and will absorb all your attention in first few minutes as you start reading it."
  • The Philadelphia Jewish Voice "Namdar's artistic prose is imprinted on every page as he explores age-old recurring themes: sin, expiation, ruin and renewal. "The Ruined House" should not be read casually because the story presents thought-provoking perspectives of time-honored traditions and their place in today's world."
  • Jewish Book Council "Namdar's excellent writing (for which Halkin must also be recognized), acute observational commentary, and fluency in Jewish religious texts make this novel a towering achievement of contemporary Jewish literature."
  • Jewish Herald-Voice "Namdar may have written the Jewish- American novel for our time. It's both disturbing and hypnotic, definitely one of the best novels of the year."
  • New York Journal of Books "Ambitious, multidimensional, and beautifully written."
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