Page 132 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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In the first fou r issues o f the jo u rn a l’s second year B renne r
published his sole full-length drama ,
From Over the Borders.
I n ­
tend ing it to be his last and finest work, B renne r completed it in
eleven days in a state o f high emotional excitement. Locked in his
mean and drably fu rn ished room, B renne r worked day and nigh t
without even a pause for meals. Fearing for his health, a close
friend finally forced his way inside and discovered B renne r s tr id ­
ing up and down the room with his coat over his head , pausing
every now and then to scribble, still standing, a few lines on the
corner o f his table, before resum ing his endless pacing. U tterly
absorbed in his writing, B renner begged his friend to leave him
alone until his task was done. A powerful play, it reflects its
au tho r ’s complete negation o f diaspora life and ends with the
dispersal o f nearly all the main characters. It represen ts a scathing
indictment o f Jewish life in London ’s East End as B renne r had
experienced it, and few aspects escape his censure. But the
dramatic tension is considerable, and the au tho r gets inside the
skin o f his characters in almost uncanny fashion.
From London, after one last, b r ie f visit to Eastern Europe ,
B renner made his way to Palestine, where he lived un til his
untimely and violent death . Arriving in the period o f the Second
Aliyah, or wave o f imm igration, he experienced all the trials and
difficulties o f those early years, including the dark and b itter
period o f the First World War. But whereas o the r writers have
po rtrayed the romanticism and hero ism o f tha t p ionee r ing
epoch, B renner depicted its stark, depressing aspects. T h e self­
ishness and lack o f pu rpose which he exposed so mercilessly make
the powerful and lasting na tu re o f his influence all the more
surprising. It is as though he galvanized society into action by
rubbing salt into its wounds. Certainly, his ruthless depiction o f all
tha t was shallow and insincere in Palestinian society acted as a
powerful catalyst on the minds o f his younger contemporaries,
and has continued to serve as a spiritual touchstone to the p resen t
Apart from a num be r of powerful sho rt stories, B ren n e r ’s
experience in Palestine was distilled into two short novels,
the Waters
From Here and There
and what is perhaps his major
work o f fiction,
Breakdown and Bereavement.
All th ree are searing,
uncomprom ising, ferocious portra its o f Jewish life in Palestine in
the second decade o f this century, and all o f them make the ir
point with a power o f devastation tha t has few equals in m ode rn