Page 98 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUA
and there is no place else to go. In the Jewish value system, ther
is always
t ’shuva.
The recognition that one has erred can be fo
lowed by a correction, by a turning, the literal meaning o f th
word
t’shuva.10
At the end o f the novel, in what is not to be co
s trued as an ironic twist o f fate bu t as a deliberate act
“penitence,” we learn that Joseph Brill — living in retiremen t i
Florida — has himself chosen the category for an award to b
given at his beloved Commencement exercises. The Joseph Bri
Ad Astra Award is to be given “to the eighth g rader with the mo
creative potential regardless o f class standing” (p. 161). In
school where the only criterion for success had been good grade
the award itself signifies not only that Joseph Brill has acco
plished
t ’shuva,
it recognizes that children can do so as well, an
“turn out” better than their grades would project.
In her
Commentary
essay, Ruth Wisse personifies America
Jewish literature by describing its “career.” She makes clear th
“marginality” and “victimization,” the themes most closely assoc
ated with the Jew o f the early period o f this literature (in th
works o f Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth), ar
not
necessary
to a Jewish literature. The interpretation the prese
essay has proposed o f Cynthia Ozick’s mimesis demonstrates th
American Jewish writing is also capable o f a very human — an
profoundly Jewish — act o f
t ’shuva,
of retu rn ing not only to th
Jewish heritage but to the Jewish heritage’s style o f writing. It
now also clear that it is no longer necessary to write mystically
shtetls, golems,
and miracle makers in o rder to create an authenti
ally Jewish atmosphere. By using the very tools o f traditional Je
ish w r iting — f re ig h tin g h e r ch a rac te rs with m ean ing f
background, calling for interpretation and commentary, treatin
her subject problematically — Cynthia Ozick has shown, in
T
Cannibal Galaxy,
that it is possible for Jewish writing — at the sa
time — to be “touched by the Covenant” and “passionately wallo
in the human reality.”
10 The idea o f
t’shuva
as a motor o f
The Cannibal Galaxy
comes from Cynth
Ozick herself. In response to a review o f her novel, she writes: “I didn’t reali
this story is so much about pedagogy: I thought (i.e., the inner hum that set
going) of the idea o f redemptiveness. The opposite o f Greek fate: that if we c
change ourselves, we can change our character, and if we can change o
character, we can change what appears to be our ‘fate.’ That destiny is n
fixed. That Torah’s gift is
t ’shuva.
That the meek can grow strong. That there
hope for the worm.”— Letter to author o f this essay, October 7, 1983.