Thursday, January 23, 2020

THE TRIBE by Bari Wood

The Tribe, by Bari Wood (NAL, 1981), is a slow burning and suspenseful horror novel with a genuine Jewish golem at its core. It begins with the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Belzec at the end of World War 2. Major Bianco, an American officer, becomes curious about the inmates living in barracks 554 because, unlike the camps other survivors, they are skinny but not emaciated. Bianco searches the barracks and inconceivably discovers boxes full of food, which should have been impossible since the Nazis were starving any Jews that werent sent to the gas chambers. But before Bianco can question the men of barracks 554, they disappear from a military transport.

The Tribe’s roots are in Nazi Germany’s extermination camps, but the story is set in New York City and Long Island in 1980. The murder of a young Jewish academic by a ragtag Brooklyn street gang starts things off, but the police investigation is cut short when the killers—all of them are still boys, really—are beat to death in the basement of an abandoned house. The only clue, and it’s not helpful to anyone, is the clay-like mud covering the crime scene.

The Tribe is a good example of 1980s horror. It is smart. The characters are well-drawn. The suspense is built scene-by-scene, and while the reader knows what the monster is, the mystery about the how and the why of the beast is intriguing and surprising. A richness of detail about the Jewish communities in New York City and Long Island, and the experiences of these men and women during the Holocaust, adds texture. The story says something about racism and hate, too. Its only real flaw, and this can be said of so many popular novels of a certain length, is that the story’s pacing slows to a crawl in the few dozen pages it takes for the characters to come together for the big and satisfying climactic showdown.


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