Page 178 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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ABRAHAM MAPU, DREAMER OF ZION
(On the Centenary of the Publication of
Ahavas Zion)
By
S
ol
L
i p t z i n
A
BRAHAM Mapu’s novel
Ahavas Zion
(Love of Zion) appeared
^ exactly one hundred years ago. I t immediately found a wide
and enthusiastic audience among readers of Hebrew. I t has main-
tained its popularity to this very day and has been translated
into English, German, Yiddish and Arabic.
No claim of greatness has ever been made for this novel as a
work of art. I t has glaring faults in plot-structure. Its character-
portrayal is inadequate; its heroes are angelic and beyond the
reach of temptation; its villains are black and beyond hope of
redemption. Its philosophy lacks profundity and originality.
Nevertheless, thousands upon thousands of young men and
women in generation after generation have wept over its yellow-
ing pages and exulted at its triumphant finale.
What King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were
to the English-reading youth, Mapu’s heroes were to the Hebrew-
reading youth of Eastern Europe. No knight who fought and
overcame fire-belching dragons could fascinate alumni of the
Heder
or
Bahurim
of
Yeshivas
as did Amnon, the shepherd-lad
whose unerring arrow saved the high-born damsel Tamar from
the jaws of the ravenous lion. No European heroine of romance
could stir the heart of the average Jewish girl of the Russian Pale,
whose fate it was to be married off at too early an age to a hus-
band of her father’s choosing, as could Mapu’s heroine Tamar,
the lady of quality, caught in the conflict between the filial duty
she owed her patrician parents and the intense love she bore to
her savior of apparently humble birth. The friendship of Achilles
and Patroclus or of Damon and Pythias might leave Jewish
readers unmoved but not the friendship of Prince Theman and
the herdsman Amnon, which stemmed from the same biblical soil
as the friendship between Prince Jonathan and the herdsman
David of Bethlehem. The afflicted Naomi and her daughter
Penina, who remained attached to her despite all temptations of
love and splendor, had their counterparts not in European fiction
but in the biblical idyl of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth
of Moab. Mapu’s Naomi also sent the young, poor girl to pick
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