Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

Basic HTML Version

JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
20
have wondered why other writers have not undertaken similar
fictional works on the same scale. Why doesn’t somebody, who is
privy to that phase of Jewish-American life, do a saga of German-
Jewish-American life? And English-Jewish-American life? And
Spanish-Portuguese-Jewish-American life? And why doesn’t some-
body do a saga of Jews on the American frontier? I know about
The Pedlocks
, but that was a superficial, botched story done by a
man who was not
en rapport
with his people and who seemed to
be in a hurry to pile “effect” upon “ effect.”
Then there are the Jews in Northern New England and the
Jews in the South and in the Far West — all of them magnificent
people for the Jewish-American writer with a heart as well as a
skilled hand. This is the time to do such sagas, for all American
Jewry, for various reasons, is now going through a transformation
— and soon, I fear, intimate knowledge of the phases of the
Jewish-American life I have alluded to will be lost. And future
generations will have to rely for their knowledge of these phases
upon histories, which are always inferior to novels as windows
into the past. This is inevitable, since historians are chiefly con-
cerned with social forces, whereas novelists are concerned with
people.
One of the problems in the transformation of Jewish life in this
country is the shifting of neighborhoods. A Jewish community
comes into being, with its
shulen
and stores and shops, and in
twenty-five years — sometimes in twenty and even fifteen years —
non-Jewish groups move in, and before long the better-situated
Jews move out, and the Jews of modest circumstances remain . . .
and there is tension and an enveloping atmosphere of strangeness.
This phenomenon is to be noted in New York City, in Baltimore,
in Philadelphia, in Boston — virtually over the whole United
States. I t is to Miss Jo Sinclair’s credit that she has seized upon
it to do a worthy novel,
The Changelings.
I am not sure that it is
on a plane with her
Wasteland
, in insight, in execution, or in
character portrayal. But it has virtues a-plenty, it remains in
one’s mind long after reading, and one hopes that her pioneering
work will show the way to others to attempt similar fictional
works. Miss Sinclair’s story takes place in Ohio, a state she has
done well by. And that leads me to ask why other communities in
the Midwest and in Central United States have been so neglected
by writers? Iowa Jews, Nebraska Jews, Missouri Jews, Indiana
Jews — they and others merit more attention from writers. Of
course, Jews are Jews everywhere, but locale does make a difference
with Jews as with everybody else.
I t is possible for strangers — even strangers many centuries
removed in time — to do fine histories about this or that people.