Book Review: Gilad Atzmon - My One And Only Love

Paperback Cover - My One And Only Love

Gilad Atzmon

My One And Only Love
Saqi, London, 2005

Date Reviewed:

See also profile of
Gilad Atzmon


Widows On The Shore...

Hot off the presses in March, My One And Only Love is jazz phenomenon Gilad Atzmon's second novel. Unlike the future setting of Atzmon's first novel, A Guide To The Perplexed, the current offering is set in the past of the 1950s and leading up to the present. While the principal focus of Atzmon's deeply acerbic allegorical satire may be Israel, the allegory also serves well to apply to the wider world, post-9/11, post-Iraq, the stark, "butt-naked" obscenity of our age.

The world of the Israeli secret service, espionage, and Zionist politics provides the vehicle for Gilad Atzmon's My One And Only Love, inextricably interwoven with the life story of world-acclaimed trumpeter Danny Zilber, famed for playing only a single note but playing it exceedingly well. An oblique, searingly satirical and outrageously funny take on Israeli politics that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, it forms the basis of Atzmon's allegory.

My One And Only Love is full of charm and wit, based around solid and compelling story-telling. Puns and allegories within the allegory abound and never fail to entertain. Although the humour is often very subtle, Atzmon's subversive exercises in urine extraction are as merciless as ever and his devastating wit takes no prisoners.

The reference points of some of the puns and minor allegories Gilad Atzmon employs may be a little too oblique and pulled from times of which younger readers will have little knowledge. Thus, it's perhaps as well to point out the (to me) obvious here and there. The title itself is of course a reference to a popular song of the same name from 1952 by Guy Wood (music) and Robert Mellin (lyrics), a very popular version of which appeared on the classic 1963 album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Non-hero Danny Zilber's greatest hit, Widows On The Shore, refers to Mr. Acker Bilk's greatest hit, Strangers On The Shore (incidentally, a hit before the author himself was born), while it should now become obvious that Zilber himself is loosely based on same Mr. Acker Bilk, with whom he shares the forever unreachable aspiration of being taken serious as a jazz musician. (However, one should add here that Acker Bilk did actually play some pretty mean dixie given half a chance and was very much a part of the British trad jazz revival of the 1950s/60s, and even his more popular music is certainly not without merit.) Bilk's slow, heavily vibrato-laden chalumeau voice on the clarinet becomes Zilber's single trumpet note. The little touches such as these add considerably to the novels charm and humour.

Another quite enchanting aspect of My One And Only Love is the particular style of writing employed. You can practically hear the characters with strong and charming Israeli accents or in some cases somewhat common New York Jewish ones.

Where A Guide To The Perplexed held one's attention through its unrelenting acidic satire, My One And Only Love does so through somewhat more subtle satire (though no less biting) and the spinning of a completely absorbing yarn. Danny Zilber becomes a huge world-wide hit with his one note, and the female fans queue up for his more personal attention. But in spite of almost all the world's females being available to him, Danny has only one real love, Sabrina, whom he spends most of his life searching for after one brief and somewhat mysterious encounter. All along, however, Sabrina is a spy in hot pursuit of Nazi war criminals. And Danny's manager Avrum all along is part of a huge secret service conspiracy and arranges Danny's tours to hide those same war criminals in "Gulliver violin" cases, where they are kept forever and travel with Danny and his orchestra lest they be publicly exposed and put on trial, ultimately thereby lessening the guilt felt by the Germans and the rest of the world.

Does Danny ever find his one and only love again? Does he realize his musical ambitions? The story holds your attention relentlessly, and so do of course the underlying politics. This book is simply spell-binding and impossible to put down, even if more sensitive Zionist souls may find parts offensive in differing degrees.

My One And Only Love is every bit as controversial as its author, Gilad Atzmon. But controversy, surely, is always a good and healthy thing.

© 2005 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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