Page 153 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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drama and “human interest." Someone has aptly called the book
an Eastern Western. It must be added that hardly any of the
more serious minded people who spoke well of it saw any
artistic merit in it. Some even had grave doubts about the validity
of much of its reporting. But they insisted that it was “good
for the Jews”—good for Israel, especially for the tourist trade.
This is precisely the sort of defense that was made, on another
level, for
G en tlem an ’s Agreement.
Tha t book was said to have
great value in the fight against anti-Semitism, particularly in
the realm of housing. A person of Jewish antecedents can now
go to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and try to buy a home, and
he will see what good Mrs. Hobson’s novel has done. In all
literary history poor art has almost never been effective propa-
ganda. It need not be supreme art, but it must not be shabby:
it must be sound and solid.
An example of such sound and solid art, which is at the same
time worthy propaganda, is
The Source
by James Michener.
Though a non-Jew Mr. Michener has supplied in this huge
and fascinatingly readable novel, an excellent portrait of the
Jewish soul in its most formative period. Mr. Michener is sym-
pathetic but he tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth about both the Jews and the Christians in those
great and mysterious and mystical early years. He does it from
the vantage points of understanding and compassion and hon-
esty, and he sets his tale in acceptable fictional form. Is his book
more archeology and history and theology and politics than
fiction? Perhaps, but it is also fictional art of a respectable order.
One is inclined to say that it has taken a non-Jewish writer to
teach the overly sophisticated non-Jewish Jewish writers how to
write viable fiction that can be taken with true seriousness.
Are
Exodus
and
Marjorie Morn ingstar
only popular books and
therefore no valid generalizations about the Jewish-American
audience can be based on them? What about
Herzog,
so dear
to so many intellectuals? Is it any better as art? Does it truly
reflect any segment of Jewish-American life? How many Jews
write letters to themselves and seek Gan Eden hopping from
bed to bed? Psychopaths and sex-obsessed people are not taboo
as materials for novels. Almost nothing is taboo in art. Sophocles
and Aristophanes and Aeschylus and Euripides and Rabelais and
Chaucer and Shakespeare and James Joyce and Andre Gide and
Stendahl have settled that problem for all time. All types of
people and all types of situations may be used as vehicles for
insight into the human condition, but not as case histories
designed to titillate philistine appetites, but rather to reveal
motives and yearnings and dreams of the cosmic wanderer that
is man. In actuality
Herzog
is not a Jewish novel in any meaning-
ful sense. The characters could just as well be Norwegians or
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