Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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own, is not at all at peace with the consequences of his vision,
which he has implanted in the American cultural landscape.
Slavin’s vision of America represents an amalgam of influ­
ences, the Jewish, the immigrant, one wife’s experience in the
work force, another’s background in the American hinterlands.
Slavin is more of a puzzle to himself than he is at the end to Merry.
Her own moderate lifestyle with tolerant views of the Right and
Left represents her own vision of America, distinct from her
father’s. Ezra’s mother called him an anti-Semite, Ezra himself
was both intolerant ofJewish ethnocentrism and of anti-Semitism
on the part of others. Merry has a complete view. She is moved, as
is the reader, when one of Ezra’s sons, whom he has hardly
treated generously or paternally, yet says the words of the Kad-
dish at the memorial service.
With the exception of his most ambitious novel,
The StolenJew
(1981), which amply utilizes mythic material, the prolific Jay
Neugeboren has depended on his sharp eyes and keen ears to
delineate how people live, think and suffer and how they identify
themselves as Jews. It is in this work that Neugeboren seems most
conscious that Jews have a history of their own, that this history
has never ceased to intrude itself into their lives — perhaps never
more than in our own time. Yet in America, by contrast, Jews
have a sense of security unprecedented in the Diaspora. The fre­
quent involvements of his heroes in baseball or basketball show,
much more than the intellectual Jews of
The StolenJew
, that they
share in the simple though no longer innocent pleasures of U.S.
sports. They feel sufficiently at home so that they can assume the
role of companion and guide to the new Jews, the Blacks of
America, with whom a silent, real though never untroubled bond
has developed. In
The StolenJew,
the combination of compassion
and daring is applied to the rescue of a Russian Jew.
The relationship between Jews and Blacks which permeates so
much of Neugeboren’s fiction is not based on conscious desires
for closer bonds, nor is it always founded on mutual interest.
Only rarely is there awareness on the part of the Jew that the
Black now occupies a role that had once been his. There is little
politics in Neugeboren’s work, but in
Before my Life Began
(1985),
Neugeboren succeeds in creating one of the most harrowing
scenes in modern literature of Southern roughnecks harrassing,
threatening, nearly killing Northern Freedom Marchers of
whom his Jewish hero has been a leader.
KAHN /AMERICAN-JEWISH LITERATURE AFTER BELLOW, MALAMUD AND ROTH
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