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Janet Malcolm Lays Down the Law

August 29, 2011 by Reader's Connection

Iphigenia in Forest Hills

On October 28, 2007, orthodontist Daniel Malakov was shot to death in the Forest Hills section of Queens in New York. His four-year-old daughter Michelle was close at hand. His wife was accused of hiring the gunman. Janet Malcolm attended the preliminary hearings and the trial, sitting with other journalists, and has written Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial.

As always, Malcolm tries to look at what’s going on from every angle. Based on her research and nothing else, I have come to the conclusion that the two defendants–the gunman and the woman who was accused of hiring him–had in fact done what they were accused of doing, that Judge Robert Hanophy should be put on trial for making sure that this trial finished in time for his vacation to begin, and that the victim was . . . no, you need to read about the victim.

 

Bacchae ; Iphigenia at Aulis ; Rhesus / Euripides
If you’re like me, and ages have past since you’ve read anything about Iphigenia, Malcolm’s title might have you confused. Iphigenia at Aulis is one of the plays written about this young woman’s fate by the Greek tragedian Euripedes, and I’m lookijng at the  David Kovacs translation in the Loeb Classical Library and another translation by W. S. Merwin & George E. Dimock, Jr.; but I’m allowing myself to be distracted by the difference of scholarly opinion as to how much of the play Euripides actually wrote. Iphigenia’s story is all over the Web, and is perhaps told most succintly at About.com.

In Janet Malcolm’s book, it is the Bukharan Jews of Queens, rather than ancient Greeks, who are caught up in the workings of the gods; and it isn’t actually gods and seers, but judges and lawyers and a delusional law guardian, who help to set in motion the 2007 tragedy.

I just recommended another book by Malcolm back in May, and I’m doing another one in this week’s Staff Recommends, so I guess I’m in a rut; but I can’t help myself. Nobody tells our stories, and challenges the way we usually tell them, with more energy and intelligence than she does. Every page has its pleasures.

One morning, Hanophy’s courtroom had been riveted by the testimony of a Georgia bank official who had testified to the millions of dollars her bank had, incredibly, lent [the accused gunman] Malleyev for a housing development he was constructing outside of Atlanta, even though it knew that he was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to credit card companies, among other creditors. No explanation was given for the bank’s crazy largesse. The forces by which the economy is ruled–and periodically decimated–are not for us to fathom. 

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