Monday, March 17, 2014

Edmund Levin's "A Child of Christian Blood"

Edmund Levin is a Writers Guild and Emmy award–winning writer/producer for Good Morning America. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Slate, among other publications, and was included in The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology.

Levin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Child of Christian Blood: Murder and Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia The Beilis Blood Libel, and reported the following:
A Child of Christian Blood is a history of the Mendel Beilis case, which could be called the Russian version of the Dreyfus Affair. Beilis, a Jewish brick factory clerk, was put on trial in Kiev in 1913 on a charge of killing a Christian boy to drain his blood to bake Passover matzo – the notorious blood libel. (Kiev, of course, was then part of the Russian Empire.) The thirty-four day trial, forgotten now, was a worldwide sensation that drew to Beilis’s defense such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The state had no evidence against Beilis, other than perjured and bribed testimony.

The dark diva of the Beilis affair - a twisted character straight out of a Dostoevsky novel - was a woman named Vera Cheberyak. The head of a criminal gang, Cheberyak was the most likely suspect in the boy’s murder. Astoundingly, she ended up as a star witness for the prosecution.

Page 99 is a rather strikingly good choice as it reveals the depths of Vera Cheberyak’s sociopathic depravity. Vera, briefly in jail, gets a new cellmate, a woman named Anna who has just murdered her husband. Vera immediately sees in Anna a potential mark and quickly figures out a way to take everything she has.
As people often do when confronted by misfortune too immense to comprehend, Anna fixated on trivialities. The police had taken some things of hers and she was worried about what would happen to them. Cheberyak said she would help. She was sure she would be released soon, and she would take care of Anna’s affairs. On a scrap of paper, Cheberyak had Anna draw up a document in her own hand. Anna, who must have been in a radical state of mental distress, thought she was giving Cheberyak permission only to take her things from the police station for safekeeping. In fact, in signing the paper, Anna transferred to Cheberyak the right to dispose of all her worldly goods, such as they were.
The Russian state – determined to convict an innocent Jew at all costs - would be willing to make common cause with this criminal sociopath.
Visit Edmund Levin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue