Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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LOWIN / HERMAN WOUK AND THE LITURGICAL NOVEL
45
ature.” He arrogates to himself an artlessness that borders on
naivete. “Why force the note? Why imitate? I ’m writing my
thoughts as they come, I have no idea whether they’re literature. I
don’t care” (p. 98). The disingenuousness of this assertion will
become clear subsequently, during the analysis of the novelistic
layers out of which this “fiction” is made. For the moment, it is
more important to try to ascertain what exactly — if not “litera­
ture” — it is that the narrator is aiming for.
Goodkind is candid that his motivations for writing his memoir
have a liturgical basis. Liturgy is central to his text because it was
central to his life as a boy growing up in New York City. His father
had been a choir boy in the city of Minsk, and he remembers the
compositions of Reb Mordechai, the Hazan, as “the soundtrack of
my childhood” (p. 104). He himself, as a boy, had had a solo in the
High Holy day service of the choir, transplanted from Minsk to
the Bronx. Goodkind the memoirist also describes a Yom Kippur
he had spent in
shul
with his Zaideh (grandfather), who took it
upon himself to point out to his fascinated grandson “charming
subtleties in the liturgy” (p. 544).
One of the more poignant episodes in the novel is the story
related by Mark Herz, a college friend of the narrator who has
successfully apostatized, although it soon becomes clear that he
has not so successfully assimilated into the dominant culture.
Herz reminds his classmate that the Sabbath afternoon liturgy
includes a long recital of sixteen Psalms, beginning with Psalm
104, whose opening words are
“Borkhee Nafshee
,” “Bless, the
Lord, O my soul.” One Sabbath afternoon, so he relates, Mark
had neglected to recite the suite of poems and was severely beaten
by his father for the omission. As one can imagine, the incident
proved indelibly traumatic for the boy. The incident is especially
meaningful in the context of our discussion of the liturgical
novel. Even as a boy Mark Herz had realized that
Borkhee Nafshee
“is the greatest nature poem ever written” (p. 566), that an equa­
tion can be made between poetry and liturgy. This incident of
negative parenting will be seen as another of the many contra­
puntal constructions in the novel. For the moment, however, let
us continue to build the case for a liturgical center to the novel.
The novel does not merely describe Jewish liturgy; it includes
many portions of it. In many ways,
Inside, Outside
is a tapestry
woven of traditional liturgical pieces; in the weaving process, it
becomes itself a new liturgical text. Young Yisroelke’s solo on