Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Jewish writers can be dem onstra ted . T he d ifferences are more
striking. Roth, fo r instance, has w ritten most often abou t ex trem e
behavior in o rd inary situations. From the beginning , he was con­
cerned with men and women whose moorings had been cut, who
had been swept away from the ir native shores and ou t to sea,
sometimes on a tide o f the ir own righteousness o r resen tmen t.
T ake “T h e Conversion o f the Jews,” a story o f a little Jewish boy
who could no longer stomach his rabbi’s evasions and thus re ­
sponded as a child who could no longer act like “a little rabbi.”
Take A lexander Portnoy, a productive m ember o f society on the
job , whose problems, rightly o r wrongly unde rs tood , lead him to
live beyond his psychological and moral means. In short, we learn
from Roth, the fantastic situation must be accepted as reality at
the same time as the reality o f the fantastic and horrible. O r, to go
back to an earlier explanation , the world o f fiction, wrote Roth,
“frees us o f circumscriptions tha t society places upon feeling . . .
and allows both writer and the read e r to respond to experience in
ways no t always available in day-to-day conduc t.”
JEW ISH EXPERIENCE
T h ro u g h writing and reading , a people passes on its collective
experience. From Yiddish litera tu re the Old Coun try can be
rem embered ; even some o f tha t whole w onderfu l body o f lit­
era tu re , in English translation, can bring back the hard , dirty,
primitive life o f th
eshtetls.
It will also bring back the warm th and
earthiness o f life in a Jewish family in a Jewish community in a
world tha t no longer exists. So it is with the sensitively written
recollections o f H arry Golden and A lfred Kazin, and the creative
memories o f the American Jewish writers from Abraham Cahan
into the present. Thus, Bellow, as he recreates the joys and sad­
nesses o f growing up in Montreal and Chicago, o r describes an
Augie March o r a Herzog, also demonstrates an ambivalent faith
in m an ’s ability to realize himself in an ambiguous world. T h e
resonance o f two-ness is always present. For Malamud, red em p ­
tive suffering is what comes th rough , from a New York City past;
for Roth, who grew up outside o f Elizabeth, New Jersey, insanity
o r estrangem en t are not what he sees as the good life, yet an
exam ination o f what appears insane in a framework o f normality
is com pe lling . For o th e rs , th e f ligh t f rom im po tence in to
machismo,
in Bruce Jay Friedman , and the significance o f the