Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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catches the p ronoun ced contemporary attachment to reborn
Zion which for many o f his generation exists as the only tangible
evidence o f their Ju d a ism . Avoiding any note o f exhortation or
didacticism, the poem s convey the sensory power o f Israeli light,
heat, stones — these serving as material agen ts fo r an awesome
spiritual appea l. T h e land and peop le o f Israel, geograph ica lly
distant from his northern C an ada , are acknow ledged as an ines­
capable facet o f identity.
Some rem arks on Matt Cohen will conclude this b r ie f survey.
His writing may prov ide an idea o f the fu ture p rospec ts for
Canadian Jew ish writing now that it has evolved beyond the
memories o f imm igration for its richest materials. Cohen was
born in 1942 in K ingston , Ontario, the grandson o f Russian
imm igrants and son o f a p rofessional chemist. As a second-
generation C anad ian his familiarity with Jew ish life is attached to
the attenuated practices o f a secu lar middle-class. He was com ­
pleting his doctorate in political science when he decided to d e ­
vote him self to writing; in a country where most writers are
full-time academ ics he is a rarity, the pro fessional writer.
In a radical dep a r tu re from the thematic p reoccupation o f
previous Jew ish writers, Cohen ’s novels do not derive from the
d ram a o f the individual seeking to balance the claims o f citizen­
ship in a new country with loyalty to the folkways and beliefs o f a
distinctive peop le. Rather, his meticulously-crafted fiction is set in
the farm ing communities o f rura l Ontario, and have a F au lkne r­
ian attachment for the land as an in form ing agen t in the tran sm is­
sion o f values. Th is world, so utterly fore ign to the modern
experience o f Jew s , is precisely Cohen ’s subject. His novels, in­
cluding The Disinherited (1974), The Sweet Second Summer o f Kitty
Malone (1979) and Flowers of Darkness (1981), have won popu lar
and critical acclaim. Th ey are rega rded as masterful read ing s o f a
regional way o f life which, caught in a process o f inexorab le
change — like that affecting Jew ish traditional ways — watches
the d isappearance o f its heritage as it is absorbed into a featu re less
but irrepressible u rban world.
Cohen is now en gaged on a forthcom ing novel d if fe r in g in
most respects from his previous work. It deals with the Jew ish
expulsion from Spa in and will trace, through its hero, the m ig ra ­