Page 87 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

Basic HTML Version

LEE / S.Y. AGNON’S POSTHUMOUS WORKS
7 7
memorabilia. Still one may get to know the au tho r a little better
through this work. T he qualities he extols most in others, such as
honesty, love o f learning, knowledge, etc, reflect his own values.
The book may be regarded as a continuation o f Agnon’s indi­
vidualistic trend in the form o f non-fiction, but as he himself pu t
it: “When a great writer writes as if for himself alone, what he has
to say speaks to all o f Israel, for he is pa r t o f it.”
The impetus for the three remaining volumes was provided by
the Holocaust. Here, in contradistinction to
Me’atzmi El Atzmi,
the
self as individual is obliterated. It is the town that functions as
chief protagonist in
Ir u-Meloah.
It is the family that fulfills this
function in
KorotBateynu,
and it is books tha t speak for themselves
in
Sefer, Sofer ve’Sippur.
The critic Dan Laor in his review, pub ­
lished in
Modern Hebrew Literature,
Summer 1979, views these
three books as one un it “. . . in which attention is drawn to three
collective experiences — the community, the book, the family —
which are the foundation stones of Jewish civilisation th roughou t
the centuries.” Agnon felt compelled to record Jewish life as it
existed before the Holocaust, so tha t the coming generations
would not be cut o ff from their roots. As he commented (in
Sefer,
Sofer ve’Sippur)-.
“It is fitting that every man should write for
himself a chronicle for his descendants, and so should you in­
struct your children and they theirs, for ever and ever.” It appears
that he was unable to relate to the subject o f the Holocaust in
artistic terms alone, for fear tha t he might diminish it. This
resulted in his vacillation between the role o f fiction-writer on the
one hand, and o f historian on the other. T h e re is the desire to tell
the tru th , but there is also the desire to beautify and mythicize.
In
Ir u-Meloah
the au tho r ’s hometown Buczacz is p ictured quite
realistically. T oge ther with the good deeds and the devotion to
To rah of its Jews, one learns also o f the ir d ifferen t factions, the ir
quarrels, pettiness, and occasionally the ir corruption . On the
o ther hand, the family in
Korot Bateynu
is idealized. Most o f the
au tho r’s ancestors emerge as saintly figures, and miracles are
accepted in the due course o f events. T he titles o f these two works
are especially revealing.
Ir u-Meloah
literally means: T he city with
all that is therein , a title based on a quotation from Amos 6:8,
where Israel’s hypocrisy is denounced and God promises to “. . .
deliver up the city with all tha t is the re in .” The
title Korot Bateynu
may be taken both in the sense o f “Chronicles of O u r Families,”
and of “Beams o f O u r Houses,” since the Hebrew word for house