Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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112
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Settlers
(1972), for example: an 832-page novel about a Pales­
tinian halutz family from the turn of the century to 1917. In
these very critical times of Arab economic and political threat
to the entire Western world, it is difficult to find much comfort
or aesthetic pleasure in such a “period piece” tome, although
this may not be true of his Chicago novel,
The O ld Bunch
(1937), which runs to 964 pages. And, perversely, in his auto­
biographical accounts,
In Search
(1950) and
The Obsession
(1973), he reveals either too little of the personal
I
when we
need more, or far too much when we need to be filled in on
other matters and personalities.
LEVIN ’S FIVE CHARACTER TYPES
Yet when one considers the literary artistry of
The O ld Bunch
and parts of
The Fanatic
(1964—Levin’s
fictiona l
account of his
personal
Anne Frank tragedy) and
In Search,
it is clear that he
is a writer of enormous talent, at home
if never at ease
in Amer­
ica, Europe, and Zion. I do not believe this can be said of any
other important American Jewish writer except Saul Bellow,
and while Bellow’s sophisticated, polylingual flights of ideas are
in a class by themselves, he lacks the dogged insistence on Jewish
ethical and cultural values we find everywhere in Levin’s work.
But we must turn now to what I have called Levin’s own five
character types, his alter egos. They are: (1)
the camera eye;
(2)
the s t il l small voice;
(3)
the fanatic;
(4)
the bumbler;
and (5)
the seeker.
The Camera Eye.
As any good reporter should have, Levin
has an eye for detail, a prehensile organ of vision that picks out
what really matters and what the reader back home might be
interested in. But no less important, Levin has always possessed
a good pair of travelling legs, and as we read his fictional and
reportorial accounts of people, places, and events, we are re­
minded of other great globetrotting reporters of earlier years:
Richard Halliburton, John Gunther. The Chicago scene, one
would expect a native Chicagoan like Levin to know well . . .
and even the New York scene. But about 1924 he made his first
trip to Europe and began to familiarize himself with the way
Jews had been living there for generations, particularly in Paris
and in Vienna, where he saw (as he tells us in
In Search)
the