Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Levin deals in agonizing detail with his struggles involving the
play.
His version of the Diary was blocked, according to Levin, be­
cause he retained — and insisted on retaining — the Jewish
elements of the Anne Frank story. Anne and her family were
obliged to hide
because
they were Jews. They were later placed in
concentration camps and murdered, again
because
they were
Jews. Her diary is the story of a
Jewish
victim caught up in a Jewish
tragedy. The Broadway stage version “universalizes” the history
of Anne Frank, thereby robbing it of its Jewish particularity and
thus “stealing away” the Jewish identity of the Holocaust.
To Meyer Levin, this was not permissible. He fought this issue
the rest of his life because of his commitment to the Jewish people
and to what he called, without blushing, Truth.
His opening words in
The Obsession
are: “In the middle of life I
fell into a trouble that was to grip, occupy, haunt and all but
devour me.” He writes of the suppression of
his
play, yet is honest
enough to observe that he never really stopped working and
during the years wrote, among other works,
Compulsion
(1956), a
fictional account of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, which be­
came his greatest commercial success. He adds, “In these years I
had written the novel by which I was most widely known,
Compul­
sion,
and the novel by which I had hoped to dispel my whole
trouble,
The Fanatic,
and a dozen more books, plays, films.” But
the obsession held.
Levin’s devotion to Jewish sources is also illustrated by the fact
that as early as 1932, before Martin Buber and his hasidic tales
were known to American readers, Levin in
The Golden Mountain
(later renamed
Classic Hassidic Tales),
retold in English the legends
of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nahman. As Levin remarked in
a 1932 foreword to his book, “I am no scholar, but merely another
storyteller who, from a far land through a strange tongue, has
come upon a saga of his own people, and recognized it, and felt he
must tell it again.”
His hasidic tales pioneered American-Jewish interest in mysti­
cism and “was my connection with the traditional material in the
past of my people.”
The Old Bunch,
an American classic novel,
“represented my relationship to our present life.”
Yehuda
is re­
lated to “the vital source of Jewish culture.”
In an interview with this writer, published in
The Tie That Binds
(1981), Levin was asked whether he would have done it all over