Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
fellow inmates in Bergen-Belsen: though she lost a th ird o f her
body weight, they rema ined large and voluptuous. In the camp,
they focused sexual desire on h er newly developed body. When
Jason and Rosalie make love, we are painfully aware o f Rosalie’s
desire as well as her nipples and breasts anaesthetized by this te r ­
rible Jewish history.
Jason joins Rosalie in helping her stalk Gamal, her betrayer, in
o rd e r to find a way o f revealing his true identity to the Jews o f Sea
Beach. The game o f detective is obsessive, childish, absurd , and
simultaneously crucial to the ir lives. It underlines the ways in
which the Holocaust has transform ed the local into the global, for
it makes the oceanside community o f Brooklyn into the stage on
which the history o f the world’s trea tm en t o f the Jews is played
out. As Alfred Kazin notes, “Though the re seem to be legions o f
Jewish novelists today, the so-called Jewish novel, the novel of
emancipation from the commandments, the bourgeoisification
o f the imm igrants’ children is visibly over. T he real subject tha t
haun ts the Jew cannot be treated in literature , for a civilization
capable o f accepting the m u rde r o f a million Jewish children is
still the only civilization we know.”17 In a world defined by m u r ­
d e r on a global scale, in which so many participated as assassins,
no th ing can be merely local any more. Given the historical and
global context o f this novel, in which Jews struggle with Jews in
the desperate effo rt to achieve national and personal
independence, Sultan has managed to deal with the central issues
o f modern Jewish history in a brilliant work o f literature.
Rabbi
is
a novel o f metropolitan scope, articulating the condition o f the
Jews o f Sea Beach as at once ethnic, local, and clannish as well as
universal, urban , and cosmopolitan. In contrast with m odern
Jewish writing, it perhaps marks the beginning o f the Jewish writ­
ing o f the modern situation .18
In this novel, the rhythms o f the oriental Jewish tradition are
coun terpo in ted to Rosalie’s and Jason ’s m o the r’s radical Yiddish
world. The novel’s chapters have the stately, even formal dancing
rhythms o f oral story-telling, in coun terpo in t to the breathless­
ness o f modern Jewish history. Rosalie, Jason , the old Rabbi him ­
self partake o f the wit, vitality, and
chutzpah
o f Augie March,
17 Alfred Kazin, “New York from Melville to Mailer,”
Literature and the Urban
Experience. Essays on the City and Literature,
op. cit., p. 90.
18 See my
City Scriptures. Modern Jewish Writing,
op. cit., p. 162.