Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
18
and then we write some more. We can’t do otherwise. We are in
love. We love the Jewish-American scene, for it is so rich in
characters and situations — untold scores of characters and situa-
tions, in the present, in the recent past, and in times gone by.
Indeed, we feel that the Jewish-American scene is perhaps the
most fascinating now available in all America for the creative
writer. A large statement? Perhaps. But remember that we are
in love.
Not one of us would maintain that everything that has been
written by Jewish-American writers has been good. Some of it
has been very bad. A good deal of the time, though, it has been
so-so, with a peak now and then, just as is the case with general
American literature. The past year or so, in all truth, has been
such a year, with perhaps two or three exceptions. And that too
has been the case with general American fiction during the past
year. (I throw in this last observation because, as a teacher of
American literature at several American institutions of higher
learning, I have to keep abreast of all creative writing, and also
because, and chiefly, I want to forestall any expressions of satisfac-
tion on the part of those Jewish intellectuals who seem to find a
strange comfort whenever a Jewish-American writer admits that
all is not as it should be in the realm of Jewish-American fiction).
Several books ccme to mind.
7y! cents
, by Richard Bissell, I ’m
afraid, is more in the tradition of the writings of Montague Glass
than of those of Abraham Cahan. All three wrote about the
garment industry, but how differently! Mr. Bissell is out for
laughs, and is not too finicky about the difference between bur-
lesque and truth, so that his Sid Sorokin, superintendent of his
Sleep Tite pajama plant, is hardly more Jewish than he is Moham-
medan. Mr. Bissell’s book was transformed into the Broadway
hit,
The Pajama Game.
When he will do a genuine book about
Jewish-American life remains to be seen. About the same has to
be said about Benjamin Appel’s
Life and Death of a Tough Guy
,
the story of Joey Kasow, the New York Jewish slum boy who
became a hoodlum. Mr. Appel knows the New York slums, but
he seems to be pretty blind to the Jewish soul, since he barely
touches upon the tears and heartache in Joey’s home and what
impact they have upon Joey — for Joey has memories and he
hears echoes that are Jewish in essence.
There were other books dealing with Jews in the garment
industry and in the slums. Not one of them, to be frank, stands
out for excellence. And that is a pity, for both teem with glory
and misery and magnificence and frustration, and they all are
crying to be put on paper through characters who breathe and
sigh and laugh and love and hope and are depressed and keep on