Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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which he is bitten by a mad dog — itself a symbol of the Jewish
condition — and dies of rabies. And yet each of these books has
its own carefully constructed counterweight too. Feierberg’s
Nachman succumbs, but not before delivering a stirring oration
in which he blames his impasse on his own weakness and urges
others to persist in the Zionist path. Brenner’s Hefetz has a cousin
named Menachem — the name aptly means “Comforter” in He­
brew — who admirably succeeds in living the life that Hefetz has
dreamed of and cannot, At the very end of
Kummer’s funeral is followed by a drought-breaking rain that re­
news the parched earth that Yitzchak failed to till and suggests
that his life and death have not been sacrifices made in vain. Plot
ending is matched with plot ending and symbol with symbol so
that an alternative and less despairing reading is provided for the
reader — and perhaps for the author — who felt the need for it.
The symbolic possibilities of fiction provided a resolution for
another dilemma in the work of the Hebrew writer too, that of
being creatively true to his own private experience while at the
same time fulfilling his obligations, as he understood them, to the
collective struggle of which he was part. Not always was the dis­
tance between these two realms easily bridged. There were au­
thors who did not make the attempt, and others, like Bialik, who
dealt with the problem by compartmentalizing its components
and treating each of them separately. (Indeed, one finds in
Bialik’s work what amounts almost to two distinct bodies of
poetry, one public and rhetorical, the other private and lyric,
with little point of contact between them. Yet the strain on him of
maintaining this inner division may well have been one cause of
the poetic silence that he lapsed into during the last decades of his
life.) In fiction, however, a synthesis was more available, for by
writing stories or novels in which the fates of individuals were re­
alistically dealt with in their own right, yet symbolically linked to
wider issues, it was possible to write simultaneously on both lev­
els. We are not speaking of allegory, of course, in which the first,
figuring level of meaning is entirely subordinated to the second,
figured one, but of a symbolic realism in which each exists
autonomously for its own sake. Nor are we speaking of an origi­
nal Hebrew contribution to the novel. The use of character to