Psychiatrist Bartok Golub plays a critical role when The Republic against Plotkin gets under way in the Low Court of Criminal Transactions.
For when defence attorney Guda Prikash unexpectedly comes out of hypnosis, the psychiatrist urges Prikash to ask Justice Wolfgan Stifel for a water closet break. During the recess, Bartok uses a pen to put Prikash under hypnosis again, so that he can carry on defending kosher butcher Leopold Plotkin.
The fact that Prikash is in court at all is remarkable, because he had been unable to appear in public due to extreme social anxieties. Prikash, who belongs to the ancient lawmongering order Prime Thinkers, lives and works in the basement of a law firm where he is ‘pleased to enlighten lawmongers who were not his intellectual equals’. However, when Bernard Talisman, Plotkin’s defence attorney falls ill, Prikash has to step in at the last minute since he is the only one at the firm with the requisite knowledge of the case – but only after being hypnotised to conquer his phobic fear of public places.
The court exchanges that follow are the most enjoyable scenes in Krakoff’s satire, especially when Stifel’s sermon to the jurors alludes to ‘heinous acts that may threaten the Republic’ and stresses the importance of keeping an open mind so that ‘the appearance of justice, the central fiction of our adjudicatory apparatus, is to have any meaning’.
Plotkin finds himself in court after smearing mud on the window of Abraham Plotkin and Others Kosher Meat Products. Outraged that people peered into the window to observe his ‘exacting cleaves, cuts, chops and slices of a surgeon’ but without actually buying anything, Plotkin decides to stop people seeing him work.
Uproar follows. Placards are printed accusing Plotkin of being an ‘anarchist bent on destroying capitalism’ and effigies of the butcher are burned. Inner Chamber Leader Cicero Bookbinder warns that a ‘free society cannot remain free if merchants… of a conspiratorial sect, are allowed to work behind a dark window’. And a law is passed – Bill 101 – to that whoever desecrates the window of a commercial business shall be guilty of a heinous crime unless the ‘said mud or other foreign thing constitutes a bona fide work of art’. As this improbable case against Plotkin gains support, he is arrested and taken to the Purgatory House of Detention.
Author: Jere Krakoff
£13, Anaphora Literary Press
When the case eventually reaches trial, a bizarre cast of characters – each depicted as caricatures at the start of chapters – are enlisted to either disparage or defend Plotkin, who is relying on the defence that his mud-smeared window is a work of art. One of them is the lunatic Pincus Barrenblat, a ‘defrocked lawmonger recently convicted of embezzling from his law firm’, who is convinced there is a conspiracy against him and stays awake at night staging mock trials.
Another is Anatole Illianov Gopnik, who had been head curator at the Museum of Despondent Paintings until he set fire to works and now resides at the Warehouse for the Purportedly Insane.
Krakoff is a former civil rights attorney in the US. His characters have distinctive voices, though there are too many to be fully rounded, and they tend to be swamped in streams of exposition that slow the pace of the earlier scenes.
The characters may be strange, but this book resonates with disturbing historical parallels to totalitarian regimes.
Nicholas Goodman is a sub-editor at the Law Society Gazette