Siege of Comedians


Reviewed by Nic Lowery

Siege of Comedians by Susan Daitch, Detroit, MI: Dzanc Books Press, 328 pages, $16.95

A daughter of anarchist pot dealers working to reconstruct faces for the Brooklyn Missing Persons bureau, a linguistic mastermind on a journey to uncover the secrets of a WWII Nazi propagandist, and an owner of a pleasure house dating all the way back to late 17th Century Vienna amongst Ottoman invasions. In the world of Siege of Comedians, these wildly unique protagonists are intertwined across ages but bound by the geographic location in which they overlap: Vienna. In truth, most people would have to search on Google just to find out where Vienna is (not that I had to of course), yet Susan Daitch transforms it into a centerpiece for which all events seem to revolve, drowned in time, waiting for the next person to uncover its secrets.

If that hasn’t caught your attention, it may be worth mentioning there is a baby alligator, his name is Frankie.

To find out more about Daitch’s take on time, and its inevitable transmutation of one’s identity, language, soul, and legacy, you must read Siege of Comedians. Daitch deftly and intentionally presents sentence after sentence of massive ideas, with brutal, powerful simplicity. Although Daitch’s prose spends an exhausting amount of energy in exposition, she manages to bring gravity to every detail, with seemingly no effort at all. Beginning as a comic noir, and eventually evolving into a historical/political/cultural thriller, Siege of Comedians transcends time easier than Matthew McConaughey and thrills quicker than Hannibal Lector.

Iridia, the forensic sculptor working in Brooklyn, is a typical lonely soul, but when an unsuspecting case of three unidentified skulls lands on her lap, she is drawn from her table of wet clay to a world of human trafficking and eventual threats on her life. After looking too far into the conspiracy surrounding the three still unidentified skulls, she escapes to Vienna where she is once again tied to the chains of her old job.

Martin Shusterman, with an unknown talent in accent coaching, was led to Buenos Aires following a futile cello career when his girlfriend disappears and is forced to return home to Brooklyn. Shusterman pursues a career in accent coaching after realizing he has a knack for it but grows increasingly interested in his WWII Nazi propogandist neighbor from Buenos Aires: Karl Sauer. Following Shusterman’s work on a Planet of the Apes remake, Shusterman has enough cash to pursue his interest on a trail of crumbs to Vienna, Austria. After interviewing with Sauer’s only living ally, and eventually discovering a much older set of evidence, Shusterman finds out quickly he may be in over his head. On the same grounds Shusterman investigates for evidence on Sauer, he stumbles across an ancient resting place of lives drowned in war.

Unna, the scrappy and resourceful owner of a pleasure house, which stands where Shusterman would prowl a few centuries later, must learn to survive in a city under siege from the Ottoman Empire. Juggling poverty, starvation, and the constant flow of refugees into a broken city, Unna is forced to use her pragmatism to survive.

Three interconnected stories, that could stand firmly on their own, take the reader on an adventure of a lifetime (or three). Vienna serves as both a knot and a road, as each story manages to find its way to a single city, by fluke or fate, Daitch leaves it up to the reader to decide.

Daitch’s most recent addition to her portfolio of successful publications demands the reader to look closer at the ignored details of life. Daitch firmly positions herself into the modern-day crime genre by posing questions of lost faces, the evolution of language, and the everlasting effects of imperialism.