The Moldavian Pimp by Edgardo Cozarinksy, trans Nick Caistor

Taboo tale of Jewish sex trade in Argentina makes uncomfortable reading
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The Independent Culture

This is a disturbing book about elements of Jewish life most Jews would rather ignore. Edgardo Cozarinsky is an Argentinian short-story writer and documentary film-maker. His first novel describes the taboo topic of the Jewish sex trade in Argentina during the early 20th century. In this narrative, Cozarinsky follows a noble tradition of upending the self-regarding image of Jewish bourgeois respectability. God of Vengeance, Scholem Asch's notorious Yiddish play, was also set in a brothel. In l923, the English version was shut down on Broadway. Conservative Jews will also find this novel hard to stomach.

Cozarinsky's protagonist is a young journalist chasing a story of lost Jews. He meets Samuel Warschauer in an old people's home and, when the old man dies, a playscript is discovered among his papers. This is "The Moldavian Pimp", set among Jewish exiles from Tsarist Russia: men and women seeking a better life, who ended up in Argentinian brothels. The text tells of a love story between the pimp Sami and his two prostitute lovers, Zsuzsa and Perl. It is no romantic triangle but a world of drugs, beatings and the destruction of women.

Cozarinsky traces Zsuzsa's journey from idealistic young girl to sex slave in a Buenos Aires bordello. Within this tawdry setting, he delicately realises Zsuzsa's character and, despite her situation, portrays a woman of great emotional innocence who falls in love.

He shifts the action and point-of-view to Zsuzsa's rival, Perl, a far more sophisticated personality. Perl gets Sami to save her from the brothel and moves up into world of Yiddish theatre and cabaret. Here, Cozarinsky captures the vibrant atmosphere of pre-war Argentinian Yiddish theatre, and evokes the struggles between stars such as Luba Kadison and Joseph Beloff. Fact and fiction are interwoven in this multi-layered narrative.

The action moves to Paris today, where Sami's son, Max, picks up a young prostitute. As she is fellating him in his car, he imagines her journey to France, hidden in a refrigerated truck, and that somewhere a pimp, just like his father, is waiting for her. In this way, the eternal trafficking of women across centuries and continents connect.

Although this marvellous novel is short, it is dense and deserves several readings. The Moldavian Pimp charms, thrills and discomforts as it explores a lost Yiddish, Latin American subculture of exploitation and wasted lives.