The Dance of Genghis Cohn & Satan in Goray - Report Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1406 Words
Date:  2024-01-27


Romain Gary, a Lithuanian-born writer, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, an American-polish writer, are undoubtedly two of the most famous and prolific novelists that the world has ever seen. The former's crowning moments in his life were when he received the coveted Prix Goncourt prize twice, while the latter's crowning moment in his life is when he received the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature. Of the many fascinating works of these prime figures, this paper will only look at one from each: "The Dance of Genghis Cohn" by Romain Gary and "Satan in Goray" by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

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The Dance of Genghis Cohn was initially published in French in the year 1967. A year later, Romain Gary, with Camilla Sykes's assistance, translated it from French to English. The novel serves as an extended essay on the problems that the writer believed were posed for European civilization by the Holocaust. At the same time, it serves as a detective novel. Its story revolves around a Holocaust victim that later becomes a Nazi Commandant’s dybbuk. On the other hand, the original publication of Satan in Goray, which was Singer's published work, was done in Yiddish in the year 1933. Later, it was translated by Jacob Sloan from Yiddish to English in 1983. The novel captures the fever of longing for salvation that possessed central Europe's Jewish population after the Chmielnicki massacres' dark decade. This paper aims to describe the context of the two works and highlight their similarities and contradictions.

The Dance of Genghis Cohn

The Text’s Context

This novel by Romain Gary that talks of the Holocaust is indeed unique in its way. Instead of directly portraying how the Jews suffered, it looks at the suffering's effect on those who perpetrated the massacres and the tortures. Depending on how the reader looks at it, there are either one or two major characters in the novel, and both these characters and those surrounding them are symbolic of other things. The author begins by making the reader know that there is a shameful secret that Schatz, the police commissioner of Licht (a small town in Germany), is hiding (Gary, 1968). However, the secret isn't known to Schatz only. Instead, it is shared with several other Germans of his generation: When the war was at its peak, Schatz happened to be a sergeant in the Schutzstaffel. He was the one who ordered the Jews' massacre. One of those people who were swept up in the Holocaust was a comedian in Weimar Germany called Moyshe Cohn who spoke Yiddish.

After the war came to a halt, Cohn decided to avenge his death by possessing Schatz as a dybbuk (ghost). He drove Schatz to the point of doing all sorts of Jewish things like eating kosher food, dancing a hora, and keeping all other Jewish festivals. Nevertheless, the police commissioner keeps on making remarks that indicate negligence. They showed that all the murders committed by him had been forgotten all of a sudden. Cohn chooses such moments to appear to him. However, Cohn avoids appearing more often as this might have given Schatz the reason to look for psychological treatments, which is the last thing that the ghost wants for it might exorcise him. Cohn wants to exist as long as it takes, to do good haunting to his erstwhile assassin.

Towards the sixties' end, people started to forget the Holocaust as cases of other new injustices took their place in the public consciousness: the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States and the American soldiers massacring Vietnamese villagers. During this time, the Jews had ceased to be the victims as they had been all through. They are now requested to accept brotherhood with their persecutors. However, this offer evokes suspicion in Cohn, who is mindful that this means sharing their oppressor's guilt.

Indeed, the novel is as much an essay on the Holocaust as it is an exploration of the Jews' contemporary identity. This is because, as Gray commences his narration, he first briefs us on the killings of the Jews then passes on to provide an insight into the relations between Germans and Jews in the 1960s.

Satan in Goray

The Text’s Context

The novel Satan in Goray documents a story that appears to be very strange for modern readers. The author begins his narration by making the reader develop a mental picture of the tiny village of Goray inhabited by the Jews during the 17th century. Unfortunately, the atmosphere around the village isn't happy and relaxed (Bashevis-Singer & Sloan, 1967). Instead, the villagers are gutted by the recent occurrences that involved the decimation of their population by marauding Cossacks. Soon after they started creeping back to re-establish themselves, came the news that a Messiah called Sabbatai Zevi had risen in Stamboul. According to the news, the Messiah had risen in Smyrna and was expected to lead the Jews to Israel. Hearing this, the villagers who had been deeply gutted got excited a lot. They even approached high holidays with asceticism.

Eventually, the Messiah's believers let confusion and idleness take the better part of them. They patiently waited for a miraculous cloud to waft them to Israel on the Day of Atonement. In the village, slaughter rituals were led by Reb Gedalyia, who had brought the Messiah's news. Those who tried to oppose the happenings in the village were banished. Rechele, a disabled and epileptic girl, began to speak in strange tongues as the rituals went on. Hearing this, emissaries started wandering from place to place, telling of the messianic happenings. However, months later, the emissaries returned with the awful news that the presumed Messiah was no longer coming.

This dire news paved the way for another strange period of evil worship in other Jewish communities and Goray. The prophetess Rechele was taken from her husband by Reb Gedalyia and got married. After that, mystifying rites were pursued, including orgies. These abominations opened doors for Satan, who possessed Rechele as a dybbuk (ghost). In this case, the dybbuk was the spirit of one of the atheistic students. Being the devil's bride, Rechele was defiled and tormented.

With the missionaries' return and the messianic movement having waned, Rechele was seized by the people. Then, a true believer in the Torah came and exorcised the dybbuk, thus cleansing Rechele, who died soon after being cleansed.

Similarities between the Two Novels

The main similarities are:

  • Both stories begin by mentioning the suffering of the Jews.
  • There are mass killings in both stories.
  • Rituals were conducted in both stories.
  • In both stories, a dybbuk possessed a character.
  • Both stories end positively. In Roman's story, the Jews ceased to be victims as brotherhood was encouraged. In Isaac's story, the dark messianic movement ended.

Contradictions between the Two Novels

The main contradictions are:

  • In The Dance of Genghis Cohn, mass killings were caused by the Holocaust, while in Satan in Goray, mass killings were caused by the marauding Cossacks.
  • Romain Gray's novel is both a detective novel and an extended essay on the problems posed by the Holocaust on European Civilization. On the other hand, Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel is only an essay on the dark era of messianic movements in Goray.
  • In The Dance of Genghis Cohn, there was the conduction of Yiddish rituals, while in Satan in Goray, there was the conduction of slaughter rituals.
  • In Gray's novel, the dybbuk possessed a police commander, while in Isaac's novel, the dybbuk possessed the messianic prophetess.

Relation to Class Discussions

During the class discussions, we learned of the amazing works of the two masters of words: Romain Gray and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Regarding Romain's work, we determined that the mission of the ghost of the Yiddish Culture is to remind people of their wrongdoings when they seem to forget them. This information strongly relates to what the novel documents, as we see the dybbuk continually appearing to Schatz to remind him of his dreadful deeds. Also, regarding Isaac Bashevis Singer, we learned that his novel is generally a fictional narration of the history of the Jews that lived in a small town in Goray during the 17th century. Fiction is indeed evident in the novel as stories about the rising of Sabbatai Zevi- the Messiah are not true.


Gary, R. (1968). The Dance of Genghis Cohn. New American Library of Canada.

Bashevis-Singer, I., & Sloan, J. (1967). Satan in Goray. Corgi Books.

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The Dance of Genghis Cohn & Satan in Goray - Report Example. (2024, Jan 27). Retrieved from

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