SYRACUSE In his gripping debut novel, “Transgressions,” Jim Jacobs has imagined Syracuse as the principal setting in an era when Frankie Carbo of Murder, Inc. and “Blinky” Palermo controlled pro boxing through the International Boxing Club. Narrated by a boxer’s 12-year-old son, the story is set in 1952 Syracuse — fictionalized as Brant, N.Y.
A well-woven tale of loss, redemption and coming-of-age, “Transgressions” is a testament to the strength of America’s multi-cultural foundation and a celebration of both sports and spiritualism.
Its central character, Daniel Mendoza — named after the family patriarch, the 16th boxing champion of England — half-heartedly supports his father’s quest to win his first title fight. With trepidation and guilt, Daniel describes his family’s ambition to defy criminal interference and later he tries to make sense of a family tragedy for which he blames himself aided by two nurturing uncles, a Jewish Kabbalist and an Iroquois Faithkeeper, who challenge him to delve into the crimes that have devastated him.
Jacobs brilliantly explicates the Jewish/Iroquois identity of his novel’s protagonist, motivated in part by the author’s own mixed heritage. His Irish-Catholic mother hailed from the West End and his Jewish father lived in the 15th Ward.
Author at Arts Fest
Though he now lives in California where he teaches English at a community college near Berkeley, Jacobs is in Syracuse this weekend to autograph copies of “Transgressions” Thursday through Sunday, July 29-31, at the Syracuse Downtown Arts and Crafts Festival, beginning at 11 a.m. each day.
He’ll also discuss the novel, part of which is set on an imagined Iroquois reservation, with SU students in the Native Studies Program. In addition, he’ll appear at Temple Concord, 910 Madison St., where Jacobs will give a public lecture on the novel’s Iroquois and Jewish themes and the people to which he pays homage including Oren Lyons and Audrey Shenandoah, and places like Poodle’s & Jim’s, Meltzer’s Deli, Andre’s Tic Toc Club and Club 800 which once featured the music of Si Simpson and the All-Stars.
Russ Tarby’s column appears weekly in The Eagle and online at theeaglecny.com. He also covers the arts and sports. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.