An NPR review by Jessa Crispin alerted me that a book I’d been awaiting with some dread is now published.
Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial is about the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, a young woman who arranged the murder of her ex-husband Daniel Malakov, a young orthodontist in Queens, New York, in an attempt to gain full custody of their 4-year-old daughter. The reason I’ve been awaiting this book with some dread is that, a couple of months before this murder, I met the victim.
My daughter Abby was going to need braces, so I asked around town for a recommendation and was referred to Dr. Malakov, whose office was a few blocks from my home. I could tell from his name that he was a Bukharian, a member of an immigrant Jewish community from a region of Central Asia that has a big presence in Forest Hills and Rego Park. When we arrived for our introductory appointment, we entered a pleasant, bustling orthodontist’s office that bore at least two marks of a recently-arrived ethnic community.
First, the furniture and decorations in the waiting room were glitzy but looked like they’d been bought in one of the cheap stores on nearby 108 Street (and probably had been — the understated style of most American doctors’ offices is not to be found anywhere in Queens). Second, the room was crowded not only with patients but with what appeared to be several of the doctor’s friends, neighbors and family members hanging around, talking on cell phones, walking in and out. Classic Queensboro style.
Abby and I were shuffled through the crowd, and I shook hands with a few Bukharian men who greeted me for no apparent purpose and indicated with approving nods that Abby would do fine in the doctor’s care. I finally shook hands with Daniel Malakov, who instantly made a good impression. He looked very young, and my only worry was whether or not he was old enough to be an orthodontist. He was tall, handsome and wiry, had a crooked smile, and reminded me of Bob Saget in the TV show “Full House”.
Various hands strapped Abby to her chair, Dr. Malakov studied her teeth, and we agreed to begin orthodontic treatment in three months. Two months later, I was stunned to hear that a young neighborhood orthodontist named Daniel Malakov had been shot to death by a grim-faced older man in front of his daughter and ex-wife in broad daylight at Annadale Park — a playground I knew very well, because it was connected to the elementary school where all my kids had gone.
I went out later that night and took a few pictures around Annadale Park. I guess I was having an Encyclopedia Brown moment, and hoped to turn up a clue. The bloodstains were still visible on the sidewalk at the spot where he’d been shot. Posters were already up on lampposts offering rewards, and groups of angry, emotional Bukharian men wandered up and down the street, talking loudly in their native language. It was a spooky scene.
It gradually came out that the doctor’s ex-wife had arranged the shooting, that they’d been in a terrible custody battle since their divorce, and also that she had slandered him with sexual abuse charges involving their infant daughter in an earlier attempt to gain full custody. Naturally my heart went out to the kind doctor, not least because I had also once been a single father. I remembered his crooked smile, and wondered what poignant struggles might have been occupying his mind the day he looked at Abby’s teeth.
I haven’t yet seen Janet Malcolm’s book, which focuses on the perplexing murder trial that followed for Mazoltuv Borukhova. I always like Malcolm’s wide-ranging work (I recently enjoyed her literary biography Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice). But I’m not sure I’m looking forward to reading Iphigenia in Forest Hills, though I will read it. Maybe it reminds me too much that the danger of sudden random violence is always close to home.