Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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LOTHAR KAHN
American-]ewish Literature After
Bellow, Malamud and Roth
I
f
th e r e was, indeed, an American-Jewish literary Renaissance it
probably commenced in the mid-fifties and extended for some
fifteen to twenty years into the late sixties or early seventies. Since
then Jewish literature has enjoyed a diminished critical vogue
and its popularity has also lessened considerably.
The Renaissance so-called is intertwined with the names of Bel­
low, Malamud and Philip Roth. Edward Lewis Wallant might
have offered them keen competition had his life not been cut
short at thirty-six. Other writers of lesser stature clearly benefited
from the succes d’estime of their more illustrious brethren. Men
like Herman Wouk, Irwin Shaw, Leon Uris and Jerome Weid-
man, previously considered literary entertainers, now received
more respectful reviews in addition to appearing on the best­
seller lists.
Toward the close of the Renaissance a second group of writers
was published, among whom Cynthia Ozick, Hugh Nissenson,
Seymour Epstein, Jerome Charyn and Chaim Potok offered the
greatest promise. Before long they were joined by Johanna
Kaplan, Robert Kotlowitz and Jay Neugeboren. It is to these writ­
ers that this study is devoted.
Just as Bellow, Malamud and Roth did not constitute a school
with followers and disciples, so these later writers had few com­
mon denominators. They also never reached the critical heights
of the pathfinders, though some individual achievements, nota­
bly by Ozick and Kaplan, could compare favorably. With the
exception of the early works of Chaim Potok, the later writers
rarely made the best-seller list.
Before moving on to our writers, let us review theories most
often advanced for the eminence of the Jewish novel in its years
of glory. Many placed the recent Holocaust background into the
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