Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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66
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
Tamar, both of noble family and betrothed while still in the
womb. By a series of misfortunes, however, Amnon grows up
a shepherd, unaware of his heritage, while his rightful place is
taken by the loathsome Azrikam, who also usurps his claim to
Tamar. Azrikam’s machinations are supported by the villainous
Zimri, and several equally unscrupulous accomplices. By saving
Tamar’s life Amnon wins her love, and the story pivots upon
the wicked plots of the villains to alienate this love. So effective
are their efforts that all seems lost, until a series of fortuitous
coincidences unite the happy pair and restore Amnon to his
rightful place. A sub-plot consists in the love of Teman, Tamar’s
brother, for Peninah, Amnon’s sister, which is likewise dogged
by misfortune before the inevitable happy ending. The plot is
bolstered by mistaken identity, ominous dreams, attempted
poisoning, arson, murder and similar melodramatic devices. The
romanticism is colorful and unashamed; and, for the modern
reader of more sophisticated tastes, absurdly naive.
Characterizations in Black and White
Naive, too, are the characterizations. Mapu painted in black
and white with hardly a trace of grey. The heroes personify
virtue, the villains evil, to an extent that gives the novel an
atmosphere of allegory. Although partly the result of lack of
psychological insight, this phenomenon stems rather from the
didactic purpose of the novel. A firm believer in the efficacy of
direct example, Mapu portrayed good men and bad men, care­
fully avoiding the more common but, for the reformer, irritating
inhabitant of the no-man’s land between. Although the reader
can entertain no doubts o f the final supremacy of right over
wrong, the method artistically is less successful. The villains are
congenitally incorrigible, and the regular death-bed repentance
correspondingly unconvincing. On the other hand, the exag­
gerated morality of the heroes tends to cloy, a fact which de­
tracts from their propaganda value, since these personifications
of virtue were meant to portray the ideal sons and daughters
of
Haskalah.
For the modern reader then, it must be frankly admitted that
neither the plot nor the charcters of
Ahabat Ziyyon
will stand
critical scrutiny. Mapu’s contemporaries, however, thought other­
wise. For a youth whose physical life was confined to the poverty
and squalor of a village in the “ Pale,” and whose intellectual
activity was harnessed to the machine of dry, talmudic casuistry,
Mapu opened up a new, refreshing world. The vivid descriptions
of heroism and determined action, the free expression of emo­
tion, above all the colorful scenes of a people living unrestricted