Stahl, Jerry. Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust. Akashic, 2022.
I honestly do not know where to begin when trying to describe Nein, Nein, Nein! For starters, did anyone else catch that the title of the book comes from a memory of having sex with a German girlfriend who liked dirty talk with a Jew? Full confession: I didn’t know the name Jerry Stahl before reading Nein and admittedly, after looking at his Wiki page, am only somewhat familiar with his work (as in I’ve never seen the shows, but have heard of them. Does that count?).
So anyway, the plot of Nein: what better way to get yourself out of a suicidal funk than take a holocaust bus tour? Stahl can write, there is no doubt about that. He is witty, cynical, sarcastic, and even dare I say, lyrically halarious? But he wanders like a drunk man in Walmart at 3am; one who can’t remember what he wanted to buy in the first place. I found myself asking why? most of the time. Why the reminiscence of the German girlfriend with the foul mouth? Why wax poetically about Trump as if he is the next Adolf reincarnate? Why so many references to Trump at all? Why meander through memories of a heroin haze? Maybe because all the ramblings are part of what prompted the trip in the first place.
The only way I can really describe Nein is to liken it to a 10,000 Maniacs tune, “What’s the Matter Here?” It’s got a catchy beat and soon you find yourself toetapping or even all-out dancing to a song about child abuse. Same with Nein. Stahl gets you giggling even though he’s telling you his trip to Auschwitz is an effort to avoid killing himself. You smile because it’s so uncomfortable. Maybe the squirm factor is exactly what Stahl is going for. In brief and far-between moments, Stahl is poignant. There are sentences about his vulnerabilities I sincerely hope he keeps.
As an aside, Stahl’s writing also reminded me of this incredibly funny friend I have. He’s always ON, if you know what I mean. He is a laugh a second, always coming up with the boomerang retort, the witty reply, and oh so funny remark. You’re laughing so much you don’t remembner to breathe. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with his comedic timing because it never stops. Stahl is like that. Always on.
Stahl’s playlist: Stray Cats, Al Green, “YMCA”, Wagner, Neil Diamond, Sid Vicious’s “Belsen was a Gas”, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, Dauchau, Deko Dauchau, Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and Under Dogs’s “East of Dauchau”.
Author fact: Stahl wrote the television show ALF while on drugs.