Monday, May 17, 2010

Iphigenia in Forest Hills

Last week I read the most fascinating trial drama reported by Janet Malcolm in the New Yorker. The nearly 30-page article, called Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial, had me glued to the page for the entirety of the day and left my stunned by the end of it. Unfortunately, the entire text is not available online, so if you're able to track down a copy of the May 3rd issue, you won't regret it.

The article tells the tale of the murder of an orthodontist in a small Jewish community in Queens, alongside a detailed depiction of the trial of the presumed killers--his wife and a hired hit man. While the case itself appears to be simple, the trial is overwrought with questions. Malcolm manages to teeter from one side to the other, favoring the prosecution and then the defense, in a manner that is most unsettling because it mirrors the position of the jury. She also depicts the courtroom as a place of battling narratives more than an arbiter of truth, as everyone's version of the truth is different and solemn oaths do little to prevent witness's lies.

In my opinion, the best material leaves you restless and agitated--full of questions and yearning for more. This piece has instilled in my so many new curiosities. I am taken with the story of Iphigenia, Malcolm's titular protagonist. The daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, she was to be sacrificed to the gods by Agamemnon in order to fulfill the prophecy of an oracle during the Trojan War. I am currently reading Iphigenia at Aulis, Iphigenia Among the Taurians, and Charles Mee's Iphigenia 2.0 in an effort to figure out the author's intended connection between Iphigenia and the convicted murderess.

Malcolm also tied in plenty deep material related to the community of Bukharan Jews that sourced this case. Supposedly one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Bukharan Jews come from Central Asia and less than 200,000 of them remain in the world. According to Malclom, Bukharans are very different from Western Jews and are even looked down upon within the religion.

Man, I was so deeply affected by this article, I wish I could re-experience reading it for the first time! It really satisfies my curiosity with its investigative journalism, as well as my inkling towards drama and rumination with its powerful storytelling.

1 comment:

jessebeller said...

thanks for this post.

i read about malayev's murder the day after it happened, and followed the unfolding story in the new york daily news on my morning commute. when i saw the article title "Iphegenia in Forrest Hills" on the folded-back pages of a coworker's copy of the new yorker, I new i had to get my hands on it.