Page 32 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
dized language ,” while Edward Dahlberg, a Jew who was in a
Catholic, and then a Jewish, o rph an asylum, sough t a faith he
could no t find. And Ben H ech t vacillated from self-hating and
nearly anti-Semitic prose to some essays and stories in the 1940s
calling on Jews to defend Jewish rights. For Saul Bellow, who has
had no struggle in identifying himself as Jewish, the re has been
unconcern fo r the definition o f what tha t means. As fo r H e rbe r t
Gold, who has traveled far, he has re tu rn ed to his Jewishness, as
he describes his pilgrimage in
My Last Two Thousand Years
(1972).
These opinions and these insights have been used by American
Jewish writers since World War II. Though some critics would
call the au tho rs collectors o f pathological characters, anti-Semitic,
o r simply non-writers because the ir concerns are no t in accord
with a set o f p redefined goals, it is clear to me th a t they are writers
first, who are Jews. I realize th a t some will ask tha t a writer be held
to a specific comm itment (individually defined), to a specific
religious framework in which the writing goes on. In my view, the
duty o f a writer is clear: a story tha t is on the r igh t side o f God bu t
is not well-written will ne ither make an impression no r live. Simi­
larly, a tale th a t is sexy, if it is no t honest and well-crafted, will not
persist. Searching fo r tru th takes many forms. One form it will
take only perilously will be tha t o f the didactic story o r essay;
however, the search must take the form tha t the characters and
the ir situations determ ine . I f Jews in America are religious o r not,
or are roo ted in the values o f the past o r not, so be it. I f they are
engaged in a generational conflict, so be it. And if they are
Americans who are Jews, who are trying to find the ir way in a
world tha t has meanings and structure somewhat d iffe ren t from
tha t o f the past, o r tha t seems to lack meaning, o r tha t needs new
in terp re ta tions o f the past, so be it. T he w riter’s province is insight
and honesty, no t religious o r political activism, and the degree to
which he succeeds as a writer, as an American Jewish writer, is the
most im po r tan t criterion.
INCREASED POPULARITY
Since the early 1940s millions o f Americans have read the
works o f Bellow, Mailer, Salinger, Malamud, Miller, Friedman,
Roth, Wouk, Heller, Ozick, Rosen, Schwartz, Trilling, Potok,
Singer, and Wiesel. Because I.B. Singer usually writes in Yiddish
and Elie Wiesel in French, and the ir major concerns are fo r Jews