Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
unwilling to concede the absurdity of an apparently absurd un i­
verse.”
A negative view is offered by Richard Poirier (Partisan Re­
view, Spring, 1965). “Herzog ” he insists, is an insufferably smug
book, its smugness nourished by an assumption common to the
Jewish fiction of which Bellow is the recognized master. Put
simply, the life of the urban Jew, far from being special, is as­
sumed to be the life of the Modern American Everyman . . .
Bellow, the most accomplished Jewish novelist so far, takes the
job o f transforming his world into The World , and it isn’t of
course even a necessary job, much too easily.”
Sylvia Rothchild is critical of Herzog from another angle.
W riting in Conservative Judaism (Summer, 1965), she notes that
Herzog is Bellow’s most “Jewish” book and that “almost all the
characters are ethnically Jewish, and conversations are uninhi-
bitedly sprinkled with untranslated Yiddish. . . . Herzog ap­
pears to accept his Jewishness and enjoys his suffering: he is
completely sentimental about his Jewish childhood. . . . This
enthusiasm is repudiated elsewhere, however, when he views all
his family feeling, his only real Jewishness, as a ‘po llution,’ an
East European weakness he cannot fight. Certainly, Herzog’s re­
jection of symbols and deeds is not Jewish, no r is his ranting
about love, as i f love w ithout deeds were enough. His ‘God is
Death’ is surely not Jewish, nor his commitment to non-com­
mitment. . . . As a ‘Jewish’ novel, it is flawed by its acceptance
of the experience of Jewish life while denying the meaning o f
that experience.”
If there are any questions about Herzog being a Jewish book,
and there are a few, there is no question whatever about Mr.
Sammler’s Planet. A rtu r Sammler is a survivor o f the Holocaust,
living on New York City’s West Side. He is in his seventies, his
life behind him. The city’s violence distresses him. A black pick­
pocket symbolizes the lawlessness o f New York. Sammler’s wife
died in an extermination camp where both he and she, stripped
naked, had dug their own graves. She died. He clawed his way
out of the dirt, back to life, to become a partisan, to k ill Ger­
mans. He was sure he would not live through the agony o f the
Hitler years. “Death had not picked up the receiver to answer
his ring.” Sammler is a sort of philosopher. He lectures at Co-