By Rafi Zabor
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780865475830, 480pp.)
Publication Date: October 2005
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Some time ago Rafi Zabor sat down to write a brief narrative of the year 1986. That was the year he set out across two continents in a used Mercedes--"Wabenzi" is the Swahili word for a member of the Mercedes-owning class--to buy a grave stone for his friend Mahmoud Rauf and to outrun the shadow of his own parents' recent death.
But like a boat against the current, the writer was drawn back into the past: his father's escape from the Nazis, Rafi's own Brooklyn boyhood surrounded by the fractious, Zabors and Zaborovskys, and the anguished--sometimes farcical--spiritual journey that led Zabor from Brooklyn to Turkey by way of Coltrane, the thirteenth-century mystic Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, the McGovern campaign, Gurdjieff, a shoe salesman named Gogol, and the cataclysmic months Zabor spent studying (and whirling) amid a band of Sufis in rural England. The result--the first of a projected four volumes--is one of the most original, capacious, and vivid narratives of the last few decades, a real-life Bildungsroman dealing with an expanded range of human experience, from matters of life and death to a piece of what lies beyond them.
Straight from the unchartered territory between Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Tristram Shandy, I, Wabenzi lifts a corner of the known world as if it were the edge of a curtain, and begins to show a reality new to our literature gleaming on the other side.
Rafi Zabor was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He has worked and recorded as a jazz drummer and written about music for Musician, Playboy, and the Village Voice, and about dervishes in Istanbul for Harper's. His novel, The Bear Comes Home, won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1998 and was voted one of the Los Angeles Times's Best Books of the Year. He still lives in Brooklyn, where he is finishing the second volume of I, Wabenzi.
Praise for Rafi Zabor's The Bear Comes Home:
"The Bear Comes Home is a book that cuts straight to the heart of things. By turns wry and whimsical, by turns brave, sad and questing, it's as profoundly affecting as a great jazz solo and, like a great solo, lingers in the mind afterward." -The Washington Post
"In fluent, witty prose Zabor conveys with remarkable vividness the texture of group improvisation.... It swings" -New York Newsday