Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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complexity, beyond intellectual confusion, to something simpler,
something truer, sometimes that ultimately strikes us as “reli­
gious.” As Bellow once put it in an interview:
. . . I think a person finally emerges from all this nonsense
when he becomes aware that his life has a, much larger
meaning that he has been ignoring — a transcendent mean­
ing. And that his life is, at its most serious, a kind of religious
enterprise, not one that has to do with the hurly-burly of
By contrast, Cynthia Ozick not only insists tha t she be
regarded, first and foremost, as a
writer, but that her “edu­
cation” contribute to the depth and richness of a Jewish imagina­
tion. As she put it in a manifesto entitled “Toward a New Yid­
dish”: “I read mainly to find out not what it is to be a Jew — my
own life in its quotidian particulars tells me that — but what it is to
as a Jew.” This, because she is convinced that
. . . nothing thought or written in Diaspora has ever been
able to last unless it has been centrally Jewish. If it is cen­
trallyJewish, it will last for Jews. If it is not centrally Jewish it
will last neither for Jews nor for the host nations. Rashi lasts
and Yehuda Halevi lasts; one so to speak a social thinker,
the other a poet; they last for Jews. Leivick will last, and
Sholom Aleichem: for Jews. Isaac D’Israeli did not last for
Jews or for anyone; neither did that putative Jew of Toledo
who wrote good Spanish poetry, neither will Norman
The test, of course, is how well her self-conscious efforts translate
into convincing fictions. What a writer like I.B. Singer —Jewish
to his very core — wears easily, Ozick attempts to master through
hard, intellectual work. Put another way: Ozick would like noth­
ing better than, in her words, “to do Jewish dreaming”; Singer, I
would submit, always has.
Nonetheless, Ozick’s fiction constitutes an impressive new
chapter in the education of Jewish-American writers and their
continuing efforts to define “how to be.” Indeed, the preoccupa­
tion frames Ozick’s canon, from
(1966) — a thick, relent­