Page 35 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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WALDEN / AMERICAN JEWISH NOVEL
27
existential, in Edward Lewis Wallant, a re im po rtan t. And no
wonder. I f one recalls the
shtetl
(in spite o f the romanticized
“F iddler on the R o o f ’), o r the Holocaust, as in Wallant’s
The
Pawnbroker
(1961), then pain is an everyday experience tha t
coexists with love and comfort.
When Abraham C ahan’s
The Rise o fDavid Levinsky
appeared , it
was seen by some, incorrectly, as an anti-Semitic book. “Had the
book been published anonymously,” observed one critic, “we
m ight have taken it fo r cruel caricature o f a hated race by some
anti-Semite.” In the succeeding decades, anti-Semitism has been
denounced readily, whenever it appeared — if at times question­
ably. Recently most o f the animus in American Jewish literature
has been directed at Philip Roth, though novels like Budd Schul-
berg ’s
What Makes Sammy Run?
?nd H erm an Wouk’s
Marjorie
Momingstar
have come in fo r the ir share o f denunciation. The
question o f what constitutes anti-Semitism (or more correctly
anti-Judaism) is a ticklish one. When Roth’s
Goodbye, Columbus
(1959) was published, with “T h e Conversion o f the Jews,” “De­
fende r o f the Faith,” and “Epstein” included, the issue was again
raised.
Portnoy's Complaint
and
The Breast
have exacerbated the
problem. To the charges tha t he was an anti-Semite and a por-
nog raphe r, Roth answered tha t he was a writer who was a Jew.
“How are you connected to me as ano ther man is not?” is one o f
the questions he started with. T h e question really, he believed,
was who was going to address men and women like men and
women — and who would address them like children. Castigating
the oratory o f self-congratulation and self-pity too often heard
from the pulpits, he argued tha t many Jews found the stories the
novelists told more provocative and per tinen t than the sermons
o f the rabbis. Maybe so, bu t as Irving Howe says, Roth, since
Portnoy's Complaint,
has no t really been involved in the Jewish
tradition . He is “one o f the first American Jewish writers who
finds tha t it yields him no sustenance, no norms o r values, from
which to launch his attacks on middle-class complaisence.”
CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES
In the twentieth century this socio-literary examination and
analysis went on in the works o f Dreiser, James, Hemingway, Dos
Passos, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe, to name a few. In this
tradition the American Jewish writers came o f age. They were