Page 132 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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126
JEW ISH BOOK ANNUAL
Meri is very much the descendant o f the melodramatic heroines
o f Spektor and Dinezon. H er suitors are, like Mirl’s, rep resen ta ­
tive o f various options; bu t in
Meri
the choices are presen ted in
specifically social terms. Meri falls in love with, and is ru ined by,
an artist who is ultimately exposed as superficial and empty,
devoid o f interest in or hope for the social problems o f the day ; he
is too self-centered to love Meri in re tu rn , much less care about
the traumas o f the Jewish community. In contrast, the Zionist
adm irer whom Meri has rejected finally marries the daugh ter o f
an old-style maskil, suggesting a synthesis o f old and new en ligh t­
enm en t and nationalism as an answer to the troubled condition o f
the Jewish people in Eastern Europe in the first decades o f the
twentieth century.
In
Meri,
Asch presents a parable o f the pitfalls awaiting the
modern Jewish woman who does not sufficiently understand and
appreciate her culture; even the pogroms o f 1905, which in this
novel serve to separate the positive characters (those who cleave
to the ir people and try to protect and com fort them) from the
negative ones (those who ignore the situation, o r try to escape by
fleeing) do not touch Meri. At the end o f the book, she simply
longs to re tu rn to the decaden t Bohemian society o f Petersburg,
to which her lover has in troduced her. T he moral is clear, as is
Asch’s political tendency. By elevating his hero ine to the main fig­
u re in a parable, Asch underlines her significance in his limited,
topical sense; bu t by trea ting her as a symbol, he reduces h e r to
the stature o f the previous protagonists o f the sentimental Yid­
dish novel.
T he contrast between
Meri,
a twentieth-century manifestation
o f the popu lar sentimental works o f the previous century, and the
m odern innovative
Nokh alemen
lies in the execution o f the novel
form as well as in the implicit ideational th ru s t o f each o f the
books.
Meri
is melodramatic in structure ;
Nokh alemen
is con­
structed as a psychological novel which unfolds with the growth
and experience o f the consciousness o f the main protagonist. T he
language o f Asch’s novel, following the nine teen th-cen tury
conventions, is Germanic in flavor, particularly in the speech o f
the main, romantic characters; Bergelson forges an original style
and syntax which in its indirectness is an app rop r ia te vehicle for
the impressionistic teno r o f the novel. T h e realization o f each
hero ine is also very d ifferen t. Meri is motivated by a driving force
— in her case, it is a traditional one, the longing for a grea t roman-