A whirlwind of art, music, and lust, Life on Sandpaper is Yoram Kaniuk’s overwhelming autobiographical novel detailing his years as a young painter in the New York of the ‘50s. Wounded and alienated, a war veteran at the age of nineteen, Kaniuk arrives in Greenwich Village at its peak period of artistic creativity, and finds his way among such giants as Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Willem de Kooning, and Frank Sinatra. In terse prose, inspired by the associative and breathless drive of bebop, Kaniuk’s memories race between the ecstatic devotion of his beloved Harlem jazz clubs, through the ideological spats of the dying Yiddish world of the Lower East Side, to the volcanic gush of passion, pain, art, dance, alcohol, and drugs that was Greenwich Village. Kaniuk’s stories roll and tumble here with hypnotic urgency, as if this were his last opportunity to remember, and tell, before all is obliterated.
I am convinced that he is one of the masters of contemporary fiction. There is his inordinate technical skill, fecundity of incident and character, and overall intensity.
The problems posed by Yoram Kaniuk go to the heart of modern man's deepest longings and emotional needs. His keen vision is unhesitatingly centered on what history may regard as the most characteristic experience of our unfortunate age, and this is true of few writers today. He is an enormous talent, both as an artificer of plot and as a virtuoso of language.