The old religion


The old religion

David Mamet

Free Press, c1997

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The Old Religion is a novel based on actual events: the 1914 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager in Georgia falsely accused of raping and murdering a young white Southern girl. Convicted by the perjured testimony of the actual killer and the lies of other factory girls, the mild-mannered Frank hears himself portrayed as a leering sexual predator while outside the courthouse a frenzied demagogue whips the crowd into an anti-Semitic fury. Sentenced to life in prison, Frank is dragged from jail by an angry mob, castrated, and then lynched. Frank's murder caused a national sensation, and a postcard of his corpse was sold for many years in stores throughout the South. In The Old Religion, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet turns these events into a work of profound originality and literary impact. Through mesmerizing short vignettes, we enter Frank's bewildered mind and follow his thoughts and feelings throughout the trial. With growing awe, Frank reflects upon his sacrificial role and even comes to accept it as the consequence of giving up his social isolation as a Jew in the pursuit of self-fulfillment beyond the bounds of his traditional community. The story of a lynching, then, The Old Religion is also the story of the victim's short-lived spiritual awakening. But in a sharp underlying polemic, it also develops the complex themes of Jewish insecurity in a Christian society, the conflicted psychology of assimilated Jews, and the misplaced faith of Jews in a system of laws that is intended to protect the weak and marginal, but that Mamet implies is just a mask for human cruelty and tribalism.

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