Book Review

The Family Morfawitz

The Family Morfawitz

  • Author: Daniel H. Turtel
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: February 14, 2023
  • Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Thank you to Goodreads and Blackstone Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, rape, parental abandonment, antisemitism, Holocaust imagery, murder, suicide, incest, death of a child

From acclaimed author Daniel H. Turtel, winner of the Faulkner Society Award for Best Novel, comes The Family Morfawitz: a gripping Jewish family saga inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

When Hadassah Morfawitz flees Nazi Germany with her siblings and arrives in New York, she is determined to turn the city into her own Mount Olympus—at any cost. In choosing orphaned concentration camp survivor Zev Kretinberg as her husband and accomplice—ensuring his loyalty with the promise of riches and the burial of a dark past—she begins a ruthless journey toward the upper echelons of Park Avenue synagogue society. Their combined ambition knows no limits, and nothing will stand in the way of their realization of the American ideals of wealth and beauty, even if it means abandoning their son, Hezekial.

Decades later, through machinations worthy of his parents, Hezekial becomes entrusted as the family’s chronicler. As he sits with his aging father, transcribing a litany of Zev’s sins—from serving as a capo at Gusen, to betraying the friends who helped him, to his blood-bound commitment to Hadassah despite numerous affairs and illegitimate children—the younger Morfawitz is faced with a choice: whitewash a lifetime of cruelty, indifference, and lust, or repay his mother at last.

I’m always a sucker for a good family saga, and the fact that this involved a successful Jewish family made this one more appealing to me. The premise sounded really good, and when I won this one in a Goodreads giveaway, it felt a little like winning the lottery. However, I had some seriously high expectations of this book, and it completely failed to meet those expectations.

Usually, I find connecting with the characters to be one of the first things that pulls me into a book. This happens to be an extremely character-driven book, and it would have been helpful for me to bond with the characters. Unfortunately, I’ve never found a book full of more unlikable characters in my life. Every single one of them was horrible, morally bankrupt, and the kind of person I just had no respect for. 

Even worse, this story plays up so many antisemitic tropes, that it actually made me uncomfortable to read. I personally know that these tropes aren’t true, but for someone who believes these already, or is on the fence, might actually use this to back those beliefs up. The entire Morfawitz family is greedy, focused on getting more money, and they’ll scheme, manipulate, and do literally anything to get more of it. As they amass money and build an empire, they start to develop influence in the city. For example, when Zev tries to find an apartment in Manhattan for his pregnant mistress, Hadassah exerts control over the real estate market and locks them out from finding any kind of housing in the entire city. I don’t think it was a fair portrayal, since every single Jewish character in the story was portrayed through this same lens.

This was the kind of book that I’d normally have DNF’d. I found myself putting it down and struggling to pick it back up, and eventually I just checked the audiobook version out from the library and finally made my way through the rest of the book. Overall, the plot was meandering and felt pointless because I didn’t connect with any of the characters. It just seemed like semi-flat characterizations and rambling stories about a sprawling family tree that I struggled to keep track of (there’s no family tree provided, which would have been helpful), and it didn’t actually go anywhere. The ending was a letdown that felt anticlimactic and unfinished, and by the time I finished, I felt like I should have DNF’d it when I originally thought to.

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