Page 106 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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LOTHAR KAHN
Three Central European Writers:
Wassermann, Feuchtwanger, Brod
T
h e
YEAR
1984 marks the centenary o f the b irth o f two o f the
most vibrant writers o f Central Eu ropean literature and also the
fiftieth anniversary o f the dea th o f a th ird . Lion Feuchtwanger
and Max Brod, the centenarians, have had numerous studies
devoted to them, as has Jakob Wassermann, who died in 1934.
Nevertheless the posthumous fame o f all th ree writers has never
equaled the reputa tions they enjoyed in the ir lifetime or the con­
siderable popu lar success tha t was accorded Feuchtwanger and
Wassermann.
But more than dates and unm erited neglect binds these
au tho rs together. T h e oeuvre o f all th ree was intertw ined with
the ir Jewishness; they employed Jewish themes, had distinct ideas
abou t Jewish “pu rpo se” and historic mission; they reacted sharply
to anti-Semitic slurs; they sought to define the relationship
between themselves as Jews and the language and culture tha t
n u r tu re d them, German. But while they delved deeply and
repeated ly into these questions, the ir responses were decidedly
d ifferen t.
T h e ir literary merit? Wassermann, writing in a heavy, p o n d e r ­
ous German, was a supe rio r story teller, with philosophic
p reten tions to which this mediocre th inke r had no r igh t to lay
claim. Feuchtwanger was an equally adep t story teller, bu t what
though ts preoccupied him were carefully woven into the fabric o f
his narrative. Also, the re was to his though t a curious
transna tiona l quality which the more German character o f
Wassermann could not achieve. Brod may be chiefly rem em ­
bered today for the wrong reason, fo r igno ring the testamentary
wish o f his friend Franz Kafka by refusing to destroy the la tte r’s
manuscripts. Several o f B rod ’s works deserve to be restud ied and
carefully reexam ined. He was not the top notch n a r ra to r tha t
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