Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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Jackson, prefers populist fools to men of breeding and distinc­
tion): and, of course, his own:
Long before he came to feel himself an eighteenth-century
man forced to contend with a twentieth-century world, he
knew himself to be a lover of summer in a world of winter, a
young man dominated by memorials to old men, a possible
stray bent to the service and history of the Adamses.1
Modernity both troubled and energized Adams’ vision. He
sought out images of History, of Power — the most durable being
his meditations at the Paris Exposition on the Virgin and the Dy­
namo — as if these abstractions happened inside his bones, rather
than in the world’s public arenas.
Curiously enough, during the same years that Adams was
testing his “education” against the giddy possibility and dizzying
chaos of the twentieth century, the hyphenated phenomenon
known as “American-Jewish literature”was struggling to be born.
And it, too, made education its abiding concern. One thinks, for
example, of Abraham Cahan’s
The rise ofDavid Levinsky
(1917), a
portrait of immigrant assimilation so unsparing in naturalistic
detail, so unflinching in its presentation of a withered, American-
Jewish soul, that official “defenders of the faith”worried it would
confirm prejudices and justify anti-Semitic attacks. In the years
that followed, Cahan’s
The rise ofDavid Levinsky
would, of course,
be joined by other books — Michael Gold’s
Jews without money,
Philip Roth’s
Goodbye, Columbus,
Mordecai Richler’s
The appren­
ticeship of Dudley Kravitz
— in a saga of tension, charges-and-
counter charges, internecine warfare.
At stake is nothing less than the soul of the American Jew.
Levinsky, for example, tells his tale in retrospect, from a well-
heeled, but deeply unsatisfied perspective. His rags-to-riches sce­
nario is, of course, the stuff that the dreams of Horatio Alger —
and America — are made of. But Levinsky’s success has an ashy
taste. The boy who once swayed over a Talmud volume in
Antomir has been lost foreover; even more galling. Levinsky’s
1 Alfred Kazin,
An American procession
(New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1984), p.