Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

BAUMGARTEN / URBAN FAILURES
23
em barking on his search. T h a t the ir quest can receive so fine an
articulation speaks fo r the continued vitality o f American Jewish
fiction, though the relative obscurity o f this novel is a comment on
the ways in which Jewish readers alas all too often take the ir cue
from the general arbiters o f literary culture.
Sultan’s book deserves to be read. It illuminates a new area o f
American Jewish life, bringing news in the classic sense, as it
explores a community neglected by the official chroniclers o f ou r
experience. His novel deftly evokes the bilingualism o f these
Jews, in which Arabic, Hebrew, and English mngle in the ir daily
life, as Hebrew, Yiddish, and English encoun ter each o the r in
Henry Roth’s classic novel,
Call It Sleep
. Like tha t novel,
Rabbi
also
charts city lives in transition — and elicits the ways in which, once
the traditional world o f the Jews has been shattered , the only
model left to help them in the encoun ter with the anguish o f mod­
e rn history is tha t o f the Bible. Like the classic urban Jewish novel
o f the Ashkenazim, Sultan’s novel about the Sefardim plays an
im po rtan t though as yet insufficiently acknowledged role in the
city scriptures o f American Jews.