Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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A n g o f f — J e w i s h - A m e r i c a n I m a g i n a t i v e W r i t i n g s
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actions of a daughter whose lust for life leads her into doing
things that bring pain and puzzlement to her father.
Malamud’s next novel,
A N ew L ife ,
disappointed nearly every-
body. The story was sleazy and the treatment was equally sleazy.
A young English instructor in a Western university is rather
adventurous sexually; he manages to get to bed several co-eds,
one female colleague, and no less a personage than the wife of
the chairman of the English department. The man’s name is
Levin, but otherwise one would not suspect he was Jewish. Per-
haps Malamud’s most successful book is his collection of short
stories,
The Magic Barrel.
They are about Jewish artists and
rabbinical students and merchants, both big and small, and at
least half of whom are filled with vitality and authenticity.
The
Fixer
cannot stand a re-reading. The treatment never rises to
the grandeur of the theme: justice. The long investigation of
Yakov comes dangerously close to being a Hollywood trial
sequence.
The reference to rabbis brings to light a strange phenomenon
in Jewish American literature. In the United States the rabbi
was for long the very pivot of Jewish life, its chief spokesman,
its cultural catalyzer. Until about the time of World War II
many, perhaps most, of the intellectuals sneered at all things
Jewish. During this period of intellectual and spiritual vulgarity
it was the rabbi who held the fort, so to speak, often against
indifference and ridicule. Lately the rabbi has assumed new
duties: lay psychoanalyst, marriage counsellor, program director,
speaker before the Lions and the Eagles and Rotary and Kiwanis,
and God knows what else. He is so busy in all these activities
that he hardly has time to be the
rov
of tradition, a learned man,
a spiritual leader of Israel.
This important personage in Jewish American life has fared
badly in literature. He has been virtually ignored. The doctor,
the lawyer, the banker, and the business man, have been dealt
with on a major scale, but the rabbi almost never. Worse, the
few novels that have dealt with him in any serious fashion have,
in the main, been poor both as art and as reporting. Aben
Kandel’s
R a b b i Burns
presents the rabbi as a vulgar
allrigh tn ik ,
and
God’s Gen tleman ,
by Gary August is only a feeble docu-
mentary. Henry Roth's
Call I t Sleep—which,
now looks less im-
portant than when it was republished four years ago—contains
a rabbi, but he is more a caricature than an authentic portrait.
The two mystery novels about the rabbi,
Friday the R a b b i Slept
Late
and
Saturday the R a b b i W en t Hungry ,
amuse some readers,
but it is impossible to take them seriously as literature.
Noah Gordon’s
The R abb i,
published in 1964, achieved
phenomenal success critically and commercially. Both the
N ew