Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
structing the text o f Ez’s life, Merry participates with him in the
seducing act o f the modern imagination, creating for us the city in
which she exists, Ez’s kingdom. He has b rough t her to it like a
modern version o f his biblical namesake, who taugh t the Jews to
read the ir sacred text as he showed them the importance o f
rebuilding the ir ancient urban capital. Ezra Slavin thereby
teaches his daugh te r how to be freed from the bondage o f the
past while bringing into the hea rt o f m odern life the values o f tra ­
dition.
BEYOND BELLOW
Despite Bellow’s elegy, the m odern American city still holds a
fascination for the contemporary Jewish American writer. I t is
clear, nevertheless, tha t we have reached a point o f change in
m odern American Jewish writing as in the life tha t is its source.
For American Jews no longer come to the city as imm igrants in
search o f the promises o f modernity. Chronicled in realistic prose
o r evoked in lyric strophes, the ir experience is not now p a r t o f a
general American u rban enterprise. No longer the arena o f the ir
fo rtune and destiny, the city is in them, whether they live in it o r
not. T he city has become a psychological state instead o f a geo­
graphical and historical one.
T hu s two recent novels about the same section o f New York
City focus on the inne r state o f characters ra th e r than the ex ternal
details o f the ir city worlds. These are implied, evoked in vivid
detail, and then taken fo r granted , while the more serious busi­
ness o f character development can occur. Isaac Bashevis Singer’s
Enemies, a Love Story,
focuses on the tale o f a picaresque rogue,
escaped from the Holocaust. H erm an B rod er’s exploits mark
him as a cosmopolitan city dweller even as he evades mistress, as
well as first and second wives by disappearing from New York.
O u r interst is in dec iphering the strangeness o f his character not
in discovering its u rban parameters. Similarly, Stanley Sultan’s
ex trao rd inary novel,
Rabbi,
concerns a g roup o f Syrian Jews who
have left the lower east side for the Sea Beach area next to Coney
Island. Like Singer’s, Sultan’s novel has a psychological
dimension, dealing with the Holocaust and questions o f good and
evil, in a Jewish and an u rban context. Su ltan’s world, however,
also focuses on the political, social, religious, and sexual d im en ­