Page 75 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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P
atterson
— A
b r ah am
M
apu
67
in its own land, inflamed the imagination of a generation starved
of life and happiness.
Ahabat Ziyyon
was read in cellars and in
attics, furtively and in stealth, and never without a quickening
of emotion and the gleam of a new and unexpected hope. The
novel taught a rising generation that life must be felt as well as
understood. A striking illustration of its impact is reflected in
the fact that young lovers began to refer to each other as Amnon
and Tamar. Not a few young writers who were later to achieve
fame in the realm of Hebrew letters, found their first literary
inspiration in
Ahabat Ziyyon.
But two further elements of the novel have significance even
for the modern reader, namely, the setting and the language.
The story is depicted in the southern kingdom of Judah during
the reigns o f the kings Ahaz and Hezekiah, spanning the period
of licentiousness and idolatry of the former and the reign of
peace and prosperity of the latter. The portraits of the scenes
and landscapes of the land of Israel are outstanding. From the
totally different environment of Lithuania, Mapu succeeded
in conjuring up a vivid and convincing picture of a country he
had never seen. So steeped was he in the Hebrew Bible that he
visualized the hills and valleys, the towns and villages with an
uncanny accuracy. But even more significantly, he was able to
portray the pattern of life in Biblical times. His powerful
imagination resurrected the world of the Bible, from which the
vital currents of life emerge in a succession of vivid and brilliant
scenes, a world which pulsates with activity and is always fresh.
Historical personages appear side by side with his own creations,
giving a touch of authenticity to the narrative. And yet, through­
out there runs a thread of idyll, pervading the scene with a soft
and dreamy air, painting the beauties of nature and the simple,
rustic life, lulling the doubts and questionings which might
destroy the delightful sense of make-believe.
Remarkable Use of Language
And even more remarkable is the use of language. The ex­
ponents o f
Haskalah
all looked to the Bible as the fountain of
living waters. Turning from the language of the Talmud, they
sought to recapture the freshness and power of the Hebrew
Bible in their own writings. But while the composition of poetry
or fable in Biblical language presents no great difficulty, it is
quite another matter to use it as the medium of a full-length
novel. The vocabulary of the Bible is very limited, and its sum
total of dialogue, so vital for the novel, is extremely small. More­
over, the narrative power of the Biblical story stems from a
tantalizing brevity, its dramatic quality from the rigid pruning