Page 152 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
132
it be
The Wall,
by John Hersey, but to this writer
Th e W a ll
was
more skillfully wrought than compassionately understood, more
sympathetic than involved. It was not the work of “a member
of the family” but of a good friend.
The “big push,” in so far as general interest in Jewish themes
is concerned, was supplied by
Marjorie Morn ingstar,
by Herman
Wouk, published in 1957. He had already portrayed a bewil-
dered Jew in
The Caine M u tiny .
It was a vague, indifferent
portrayal of one who, while occupying a large part of the novel,
always seemed to be peripheral. In
Marjorie Morn ingstar
Wouk
concerned himself almost exclusively with Jews who lived in
New York in the Thirties. The malaise of this best-seller, whose
public was perhaps exceeded only by that which read
Exodus,
in effect set the pattern for the deficiencies that have stamped
so many of the “quality” as well as the more popular Jewish
novels. There is not a single recognizable character in the book.
What is more significant, there is so little empathy or even in-
tuition for the Jewish spirit as a millennia-old phenomenon in
world history and as a rich and colorful cultural fact of the
American experience. It is astonishing that not one of the more
than two score men and women in the novel is sympathetic.
True, Uncle Samson-Aaron is semi-sympathetic, but he appears to
serve one central purpose: in the novel the heroine is about to
take off her girdle for the delectation of Noel Airman when
Uncle Samson-Aaron collapses. Whereupon Marjorie in effect says
to Noel, “We can’t do it now, dear, after all . . .” The poor
reader must then endure another stretch of dull prose before
a more auspicious moment for the great event occurs.
As has been said, only one other novel in the ten years since
Marjorie Morningstar
has achieved its great popular acceptance
—and possibly topped it. Leon Uris’s
Exodus
was chosen as the
best Jewish novel of the year by the Jewish Book Council of
America in 1958. The choice split the book reading Jewish com-
munity wide open. It must be reported that the judges were
not unanimous. One of them was steadfastly opposed on the
ground that it was poor as a novel, inaccurate as a piece of re-
porting, and indifferently written. It purported to give an imagi-
native account of the massive spiritual strength and physical
bravery behind the establishment of the State of Israel. Those
parts that were lifted almost word for word from official records
were good, such as the discussion and vote that led to the his-
toric event at the United Nations on November 29, 1947. But
virtually all the “creative” sections were false, tawdry, or inef-
fective. The leading character, Barak, does not reflect the Israeli
soldier, the discussion of the Arab-Jewish problem is inadequate,
the sketch of the woman who clearly represents Henrietta Szold
is a libelous caricature, and the entire effort reeks of TV melo­