Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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RIBALOW / MEYER LEVIN
151
again, given the lack of critical attention to his work and the
pressures and tensions he has confronted and not always over­
come. He replied, “I am satisfied. Each book is written out of a
sense of pressure within one’s self to deal with that material or
that story. There isn’t very much choice about it. If what came to
the writer was out of Jewish material, then his writing had to be
Jewish material.”
H IS MAJOR WORK
Levin’s novels add up to an impressive body of work over a long
period of time. Yet I feel that his single most brilliant book is not a
work of fiction but his autobiography,
In Search.
I take some
satisfaction from the realization that I was involved in its publica­
tion in the United States.
In his interview, Levin talked freely of his problems with this
book.
“In Search
,” he said, “is a good example of what I mean
about a book finding itself. When I first wrote it in 1 9 4 7 ,1 took it
to my friend Elliot Cohen, who had then started
Commentary.
He
asked me to take it to Alfred Kazin to read. I was then living in
Paris and had come here for only a few weeks to try to place the
book. Kazin read it and I came eagerly to his door the next day.
He came to the doo r— I didn’t even get inside the house. He just
shook his head sadly and said, ‘No. No. No, this isn’t it,’ and gave
me back the manuscript. That was the verdict . . . Then there
were a succession of peculiar disappointments. One publisher
took it and then returned the contract and so on. I wound up
getting so angry that — since printing was very cheap in Paris — I
used my last few dollars and went back to Paris to get the book
printed. I had that crazy idea that every writer seems to get once
in a while that he’ll be able to sell his book on his own. Of course, I
couldn’t. I went around with two satchels and went on lectures for
the next three years getting rid of those thousand books.”
It was during this period that I tried to help. I suggested to
Levin that he send the book to the Jewish Publication Society.
Having read it, I was convinced that the JPS would grab it. To my
consternation, they turned it down. I ’ll never understand why.
Then I brought together Levin with Ben Raeburn of Horizon
Press. Raeburn had published a book of mine and was preparing
to do a second. Like myself, he was deeply impressed with
In
Search
and issued it handsomely, even though it was photo-offset