Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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which was nearer one ear than the other, hung away from
his soiled collar. What features were visable were large and
had an oily gleam. Beneath his skull cap, his black hair was
closely cropped. Though full of misgivings about his future
relations with the rabbi, David felt that he must accept his
fate. Was it not his father’s decree that he attend the
Reb Yidel Pankower is, in the ominous words of an older
classmate, a “louser! He hits!” But the
— half Dickensian
caricature, half Freudian nightmare — is also part of the mod­
ernist vision Roth appropriated from James Joyce. As such,
Pankower is a version of the priests who pandy misbehavors at
Clongowes, while David Schearl strikes us as cut from the same
sensitive, longsuffering, misunderstood cloth that gave us
Stephen Dedalus. In
Call it sleep,
street rhythms are juxtaposed
the nightmare of waking life against the truer
liberation/redemption Roth associates with “sleep.”The result is a
novel about growing up, and coming into consciousness, on the
lower East Side; we “Call it sleep” because that is Roth’s title, but
we have learned to read the book as
A Portrait of the artist as ayoung
We have also learned how to temper our views of the
threatening, sadistic Pankower. After all, he plays a significant
role in David’s maturation because mysticism lies at the center of
equations that link Power with purity, the fiery coal that does not
burn Isaiah’s tongue with the milk dipper David thrusts into the
subway’s electric rail. In short, religious orthodoxy is the force,
the grip of ideas, that Roth’s book battles against. To free himself
from his father’s unspoken accusations, from the Oedipal fantasy
that David both recognizes and fears, David must
— not
only “who he is,” but also what sonhood, as well as Jewishness,
means. Pankower is, in this sense, more than a study of the
etched in frustration and grotesquery. There is, if you will,
a tragic dimension to the man, one that is given full expression as
he walks toward the Schearl household with a broken heart and a
lyrically rendered, very Joycean, stream-of-consciousness:
What was going to become of Yiddish youth? What would