Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
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writer primarily, although his novel,
My Own Ground15
gained
for him additional attention from literary critics who had been
intrigued by the theological and deeply Jewish twists and turns
of his tales. His two story collections,
A Pile of Stones
(1965)
and
In the Reign of Peace
(1972) are slim books. Together
they include fifteen stories, and they total, in their entirety, 330
pages. But their quality is high and of the fifteen, six are about
Israel in his
In the Reign of Peace
alone and two are concerned
with Israel in the earlier volume. They prove that a sensitive
American Jewish writer, who knows Israel, can find themes,
subjects and people to be brought to artistic life. Both volumes
are highly recommended, but I should like to linger over the
title story “In the Reign of Peace,” and “Lamentations.”
In his “In the Reign of Peace” Nissenson, in a handful of
pages, beautifully portrays a pious North African Jew in an
Israeli kibbutz who passionately believes in the ways of God.
It blends Israel, faith and the American Jewish outlook into
a single picture, well-drawn. In “Lamentations” Nissenson again
takes only a few pages to tell an incredible yet somehow believ-
able tale. A pregnant Israeli girl has lost her husband-to-be
in battle. Persistent, aggressive in her own peculiar way, the
girl insists on going through a marriage ceremony over the
man’s grave: “a canopy erected over the mound of fresh earth.”
It is an odd, poignant tale, one which reflects the deep sense
of loss, death and love in an Israel constantly at war.
There are other interesting short stories dealing with Israel
and its people,16 but I shall conclude this necessarily brief
survey with a series of comments about Curt Leviant’s
The
Yemenite Girl
(1977), because it demonstrates perhaps the
future path to be taken by American writers who plan to deal
with Israel. Leviant knows Hebrew well. He is a translator and
15 The novel is set in the Lower East Side at the turn of the century,
yet Nissenson manages to bring Israel into it through a violent, unusual
character in a colorful narrative.
16 Philip Roth’s “The Love Vessel,” Michael Rosenak’s “Behold the
Dreamer” and Gloria Goldreich’s “Z’mira”—all included in
My Name
Aloud,
edited by Harold U. Ribalow (1969), are excellent stories about
Israel: the first about an American in a kibbutz; the second concerned
with an American Jewish Hebrew teacher in an Israeli yeshiva; the
third about the relations between an American Jewess and her Israeli
“ozeret.” “A Dove of the East” by Mark Helprin is another tender
story set in Israel.