Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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the leaders of the restored Republic assured Jews of their old
status and rights. Julien Benda could still complain in the 1920’s,
justly or otherwise, that the Goncourt Prize had been denied
him for ethnic reasons, but now the Goncourt Academy granted
its coveted prize to three Jews in the brief span of seven years.
To judge by the uneven merit of these Goncourt winners, the
post-Nazi judges bent over backward to demonstrate their philo-
semitism, as once they had been accused of leaning the opposite
way. Roger Ikor won the Prize for
Avrom’s Sons
in 1955, Andre
Schwarz-Bart for
The Last of the Just
in 1959, and the late Anna
Langfus for the very dubious
Baggages de Sable
(The Lost
Shore)
in 1962. Despite their disparate quality and different
styles, these books had distinctive elements in common. Their
heroes and/or their families were immigrants who had been
seared by the fires of Auschwitz. In a broad sense, these and
other postwar French novels by Jews have borne the imprint of
the Holocaust. European authors were physically closer to those
tragedies which proved to be the overriding events of their lives
and clearly dominated their work. More universal and ethical
themes such as those developed in American Jewish literature
have for this reason been largely absent from the French Jewish
literary scene.
No French literary award is complete without some animated
debates. The Jewish Goncourt winners scored exceptionally high
on dramatic controversy. Roger Ikor’s novel
Les Eaux Melees
(Avrom’s Sons),
deemed assimilationist by many and self-hating
by others, was vigorously decried by Jewishly committed critics
and organizations and applauded as a naturalistic, Zoleasque
masterpiece by others, including a number whose previous atti-
tude toward Jews had been suspect. It is the story of Yankel who
fled a Russian pogrom, immersed himself in French life to the
point of forgetting his whole past—including the wife and chil-
dren left behind. Quite accidentally a message from his wife gets
through to him forcing him into the Rue des Rosiers, the Jewish
section of Paris. Thus Yankel, in love with France, is slowly reat-
tached—without enthusiasm—to his roots. Eventually his father
joins him. While Yankel was dazzled by the City of Lights, the
patriarchal Avrom is not even conscious of its existence. For
him, trampled or not, no other world exists but the Jewish. But
Simon, Yankel’s son, is gradually drawn into the mainstream of
French life, in which Jewishness has no place at all. He inter-
marries, but it fails to bring him total happiness. His son suffers
death at the Nazis’ hands, partly because of his father’s origin.
The waters have joined, the blood has been mixed. Jewish identity
has weakened from one generation to the next until it is finally
and completely absorbed.