Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
a grea t creative m ind at work. T h e parallels and allusions to the
au tho r ’s previous writings lead to a deepe r unders tand ing o f the
entire corpus o f his works. T he re is here much o f the Agnon we
know and savor; the re are new achievements, and the re are some
tendencies tha t are more p ronounced . I t should be bo rne in
mind, however, tha t one cannot do justice to the eight volumes
with all the ir riches in the framework o f a short article.
‘SHIRAH’
Shirah
is perhaps the most controversial, and certainly the most
secular work by Agnon. It is a realistic, explicit novel, and the least
laden with symbols as compared with his o the r writings. T h e story
revolves around Manfred Herbst and his extra-marital affair with
the nurse Shirah, on one hand , and his life as a family man and a
member o f the faculty o f the Hebrew University in Jerusa lem , on
the other. H erbst first meets Shirah when his aging wife H en ­
rietta is in labor while giving birth to a daugh ter. He subsequently
sees Shirah and has an affair with her. T hough the ir actual
encounters are few, Shirah is constantly in H erbst’s m ind, acting
as the moving spirit o f the story. She is, as Gershon Shaked has
term ed it, both an
anima
and a
femmefa ta le ,
a symbol o f lust ra th e r
than love. T he events take place in Jerusa lem in the late thirties
and early forties. As is usually the case with Agnon whenever he
treats Jerusalem , the city is depicted excellently. In this modern is­
tic context it’s mostly the earthly Jerusa lem we see. Still the atmo­
sphere is r idden with fantasy. T he sounds o f footsteps in the
streets have distant echoes, and the arom a o f coffee from the
coffeehouses is filled with expectations. Indeed , Jerusa lem itself
is as much a protagonist in the novel as any individual charac ter o f
flesh and blood.
One becomes acquainted with d iffe ren t people from many
walks o f life, with Jews from all over the world: secular, orthodox ,
and proselytes; as well as with Arabs and Englishmen. These are
the days o f the Arab un rest and the rise o f Nazism. H en r ie tta
keeps runn ing back and fo rth in h e r effo rt to obtain certificates
for h er relatives in Germany, while H erbst is buried in his work
concerning ancient tombs. As in previous works o f Agnon dealing
with wartime themes, here , too, the ou te r violence is m ir ro red in
Herbst’s inne r life. T h e characters o f the novel, in add ition to
being people in the ir own right, function also as H erb st’s doubles