Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
American writers, o f course, bu t they were also American Jewish
writers because they were bo rn Jewish, and , regardless o f the
intensity o f the ir religious o r cultural comm itment, they have
written abou t some essential aspect o f the Jewish experience in
America. Unlike the Lost Generation writers — gentiles who
seldom wrote about u rban o r ethnic conditions — the Jewish
community was defined enough to suppo r t the ir work. In the
cultural vacuum tha t existed in the early 1940s, American Jewish
writers responded as no o th e r group to the coun try ’s u rgen t
cultural need. T he biblical past, the rise o f H itler, the Holocaust,
the new State o f Israel, and the need o f Americans to again
believe in humanity helped . As Saul Bellow p u t it, affirm ing his
belief in the humanity o f the patriarch Abraham , he knew his
deb t — it had to do with the presence and con tinuation o f life.
In the 1970s, the most ex trao rd inary deve lopment has been the
emergence o f a group o f writers who write ou t o f a sense o f
ongoing Jewish identification. Cynthia Ozick and H ugh Nissen-
son, both avowedly Jewish, have written o f the centrality o f the
Jewish experience. In N issenson’s
A Pile o f Stones, Notes from a
Border Kibbutz, In The Reign o fPeace,
andiVTy
Own Ground,
there has
been an a ttem p t to exam ine the relationship o f Jews to the ir
religion in view o f a God who is often absent or less than ideal. In
Ozick’s
Trust, The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories,
and
Bloodshed and
Three Novellas,
there is an effo rt to develop a genuinely Jewish ar t
in English along with what Ozick calls the “Juda iza tion” o f Eng­
lish. It seems tha t in spite o f the rum o r tha t the American Jewish
Novel is declining o r is dead , it is very much alive.
O f the older generation , Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Fiedler,
Potok, and a few others continue to write. O f the newer gene ra­
tion, in addition to Ozick and Nissenson, the re are Norma Rosen,
C u r t Lev ian t, M ichael H a lbe rs tam , Jacob Tw ersky , David
Evanier, A rthu r A. Cohen, and Abraham Rothberg. As Ruth
Wisse pu t it in a
Commentary
article in 1976, “Having no longer to
d e f e n d th em s e lv e s f rom r e a l o r im a g in e d c h a r g e s o f
parochialism, the new Jewish writers o f the 70s are free to explore
the ‘trivial’ and particularistic aspects o f Juda ism , and even, tu rn ­
ing the tables, to speculate on the restrictive limits o f English as a
literary language.” In o the r words, with an in terest in trying to
find ou t what it is like to th ink and write like Jews, they are using
Jewish history and legend, they are not draw ing caricatures, and
they may be creating o r completing what Irving H alpe rin called