Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 21

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C
h a r l e s
— J
ew ish
S
hort
S
tory
W
riters
13
written stories with great feeling about Jewish family life.
Nadine Gordimer is particularly good in this genre. But—as
always these days—we must turn to America for the truly mar-
velous contemporary talents. These include a very remarkable
collection entitled
Poor Cousin Evelyn
which was first published
in 1951 by a young man (who was then, astonishingly, only
twenty-one) called James Yaffe. These stories, centered around
m iddle class New York Jews, are quite superb of their kind,
ranging from severe criticism of the nouveau riche, the Jewish
“business mentality,” to a most penetrating insight into the
obstinate illusions by which men live.
Obstinacy, incidentally—a characteristic Jewish trait of course;
it is not for nothing we are called a stiff-necked people—appears
in many stories of Jewish life. In one called “In Th is World”
in the volume of that name by an American called Eugene
Ziller, an old Jew obstinately refuses to accept his removal from
a corner of the factory where he has always worked. In a James
Yaffe story a rich old man refuses to acknowledge that a pair
of refugees are battening on him. He doesn’t
want ,
he obsti-
nately
refuses
to see that he is being exploited. In a Herbert
Gold story, “The Heart of the Artichoke,” father and son are
locked in bitter, obstinate conflict with each other.
Another kind of obstinacy, the obstinate (and again typically
Jewish) belief in ultimate good is demonstrated in the famous
Irwin Shaw story “Act of Faith” in which a Jewish-American
soldier serving in Europe, though aware that anti-Semitism is
showing itself back home in America, deliberately parts with
his gun; an act of faith performed in the obstinate belief that
he w ill never need to use it against such enemies.
But of course there is something more valuable and positive
than obstinacy in the American Jewish short story. There is,
for one thing, an element of fantasy, particularly in the stories
of Isaac Bashevis Singer who, though he writes in Yiddish, lives in
the Un ited States, and of Bernard Malamud. Th is element stems
directly from the old, European Yiddish writers. Indeed, many
American writers—Malamud is a particularly interesting ex-
ample—are turning to this source for inspiration and direction
o f their talents. In fact one can’t help feeling it a kind of
ironic marvel that so many modern Jewish writers are redis-
covering their roots in this long neglected field.
The Qual ity of Feeling
But there is another quality to be found in our contemporary
writers which is to my mind perhaps the most important of
all. Th is quality—which one meets again and again—is some­