Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
er’s fiction to date. Schaeffer belongs to the finest stylists that the
American Jewish late and post-Renaissance has produced.
Perhaps the most accomplished novelist among the writers of
vision isJohanna Kaplan, who thus far has contributed only a col­
lection of short stories,
Other People’s Lives
(1975) and
O My
America
(1980), a superb novel. A teacher of disturbed children
for many years, Kaplan translated her experiences in psychology
into several lively stories of New Yorkers, the complexity of
whose lives manifests itself through idiosyncratic behavior, which
becomes less enigmatic as Kaplan unravels their tales of frustra­
tions and exaltation. Here and in
OMy America
she is also adroit in
delineating the Jewishness of her characters, which is skillfully
woven into the overall makeup.
PORTRAIT OF AN INTELLECTUAL
O My America
is the novel of a culture hero of the 1960’s, Ezra
Slavin, the public worship he receives and the private misery he
inflicts. For once ideas and character are intermeshed. Irony is
fused with addictive belief, vision with experience. The novel
traces the revolutionary change in the Jew’s status from the early
decades on the East side, when his goal was getting to “Allright-
niks Row” and becoming one with the chosen people, accepted
Americans. By 1960 he has arrived and in the person of Ezra
Slavin, has impressed his influence on the minds of American
intellectuals everywhere. The novel opens with Ezra’s death
which leads his one legitimate daughter, Merry, to a virtual bio­
graphical reconstruction of the Great Man’s life. We learn of the
radically different women with whom he has entertained liaisons
and each one of whom gave him children. This theorist of a new
education, this visionary of a new life and man, this anti­
bourgeois, virtually Jewish anti-Semite feels uncomfortable with
his women, his children and his disciples. The contradictions in
his makeup offer more clues to Merry than almost anything else
in her attempt to make sense of her father’s life. Harsh in his own
criticisms of Jews, he reacts violently to others indulging in the
same criticism. Oblivious to facts and figures that others have
known forever, Slavin sees them as new and casts them in a new
light. He demands approbation of his ideas, but cannot bear to
note the low cultural level for which his own influence is partly
responsible. Ezra, the Jewish Guru with a vision of America all his