Review of Max Baer & the Star of David on

Max Baer was only a quarter Jewish, but he wore a Star of David on his trunks, smart marketing in the 1930s when many Jews fought professionally, especially smart when Baer fought and pummeled German heavyweight Max Schmeling. But the symbolic star resonates beyond a marketing ploy in this novel. The lusty connection between black Horace and Joleen and white Max, champion of and for the Jews, suggests a larger racial connection. Blacks and Jews, the slaves of the United States and the original slaves in Egypt, two oppressed races forced to do hard labor and too-often forced to hide their identities or watch their words, are united physically and symbolically in Neugeboron’s novel. Only once does Max’s in-ring violence enter his daily life, and it’s to defend his brother Horace. While enjoying a night out, a belligerent customer confronts the two friends and points to a We Serve Whites Only sign above the bar. At first, Max counters the racist with humor: “So you’re okay then. They can serve you here.” But when the altercation escalates and the bartender pulls out a baseball bat to enforce the whites-only rule, Max, not a young man anymore, flexes his muscles. Another patron recognizes Max as the great Max Baer, and when his identity is revealed, the mere mortals back down. Horace Littlejohn infers the race-connection when he wraps up the tale, “The man who had confronted Max backed away, told Max he didn’t mess with killers or kikes, and hurried out the door.” The black man and the man representing the Jews remain in the bar. The racist is banished. Max buys everyone a round of drinks and, if only for a moment, unity trumps hate and divide.

Max Baer and the Star of David is a novel first, a boxing novel second. And that’s how it should be for a novel whose title character may have been more famous for his out-of-ring escapades than his pugilistic career. The real fighters in this novel are the people that surround Max, Horace and Joleen and a woman Horace falls for as a middle-aged man, a woman who teaches the handicapped how to hear without hearing and see without sight. Novelists fill in the senses; they make the unreal real. Jay Neugeboren takes old fight-film footage, removes the graininess, introduces color, helps us hear and see the men and women behind the man, as well as the man himself, Max Baer, whose life was as colorful as the deep blue star emblazoned on his trunks.

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'On the Veranda,' by Jay Neugeboren

“It was the summer of 1937, in the August of my thirteenth year, and two months before I would, because of what happened that day, leave home forever.”

The sun was gone from the sky on what had been a brutally hot day and, returning home from the fields, I saw that my sister Marie-Anne was by herself, her back against a pecan tree, and that she seemed to be in the midst of the kind of frightened, dream-tossed sleep that, in the bed we shared with our brother Paul, frequently plagued her. We lived on farms in southeast Louisiana owned by white people in those years–Hammond was the nearest city–where we worked as sharecroppers and domestics. In the summers, Marie-Anne and I, along with our seven older brothers and sisters, were loaned out as field hands where we were needed most. It was the summer of 1937, in the August of my thirteenth year, and two months before I would, because of what happened that day, leave home forever.

As I drew closer, I saw that Marie-Anne’s skirt, the deep black-brown of river-bottom, was raised above her waist. Her eyes were closed, and she had one hand between her legs while her other hand was pressed against her mouth in order, it seemed, to stifle growling sounds much like those our dogs would make when a person unknown to us came near..

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Amos Lassen's Review of Max Baer & the Star of David

“Max Baer and the Star of David” is author Jay Neugeboren’s twenty-second book and it is focused on the life of the world heavyweight champion Max Baer. In 1933 Baer (who was one-quarter Jewish and wore a Star of David on his boxing trunks), won the greatest fight of his career, defeating Nazi Germany’s heavyweight champion, Max Schmeling, in front of a crowd of 60,000 fans. A year later, he earned the heavyweight title defeating Primo Carnera in 1934 in front of 50,000 fans at Madison Square Garden Bowl. Baer was a flashy performer and showman who was a source of entertainment for America during the Great Depression. At the pinnacle of his fame, he starred in more than a dozen movies, played the vaudeville circuits, and was romantically linked to innumerable starlets, showgirls, socialites, and Broadway actresses.

Neugeboren has created fictional characters that interact with boxing champion Max Baer. At the center of the novel are two mysterious and memorable fictional creations, Horace and Joleen Littlejohn, who were constantly with Baer and who presented themselves to the world as husband and wife, when, in fact, they were brother and sister. They become best friends and sometime lovers to Max in this dazzling story about the world of boxing, and about Max’s life in and out of the ring. Horace is the narrator of the story and he takes us into an is interracial love triangle that is set in a world where love and violence are part of the way things happen. So we not only learn about the golden age of boxing but also about breaking a taboo. The characters are epic and the story is fascinating, one that you will want to read over and over again.

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Review of Max Baer & the Star of David on New Pages

In June of 1933, American boxer Max Baer and German heavyweight Max Schmeling, a former world champion, fought a highly publicized bout in front of sixty thousand fans in New York’s Yankee Stadium. Schmeling was Hitler’s favorite fighter and was favored to win. In the days leading up to the fight, Schmeling told American reporters that stories of Germany’s persecution of Jews were untrue. Max Baer, in a move that was part publicity stunt and part sincere act of defiance, sewed a large Star of David to his trunks. Baer’s subsequent victory over Schmeling became an international symbol of Jewish resistance to fascism. One year later, Baer, still with Star of David on the left leg of his trunks, became heavyweight champion of the world.

Boxing is the “sweet science” of beating the living daylights out of another human being. The writing of successful historical fiction is the sweet science of turning real-world figures into believable, fascinating characters and of molding the known events of their lives into dramatic stories. Max Baer and the Star of David, Jay Neugeboren’s fifteenth published book of fiction, is an exciting blend of fact and fiction. .

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