Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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Some critics have half-seriously suggested that the author’s
name of “born anew” is a significant clue to an understanding of
his novels. Indeed, there is often a distinct rupture in the lives of
his characters and the new life appears to have little in common
with the life previously lived. In
Before My Life Began
the young
hero is an assistant to his mobster uncle, has committed a murder,
is forced to flee, leaving his wife and child behind. He reappears,
this time as a builder, with a new wife and new family, and with
interests dramatically different from those of his first life.
Neugeboren does not succeed fully in getting the two lives to fuse
into an harmonious whole. He does succeed here, as elsewhere,
in dealing successfully with the themes of survival, life, death,
and the usually futile search for self.
Like Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, Robert Kotlowitz used an
unfamiliar European setting for his distinguished
Somewhere Else
(1972). This is the story of Mendel, a rabbi’s son, who chooses to
leave his Polish home for the London of pre-World War I. The
author’s research took him to the archives of YIVO, to maps of
pre-war Poland, to remembering the stories his grandfather had
told him of a time gone by. Kotlowitz eschews the pitfall of
sentimentalizing either the past or what is probably an ancestor.
In London his hero Mendel quickly turns into Moritz. He
changes from cantor to cafe singer and yields willingly to the sec­
ular temptations of the city.
Kotlowitz has stayed with topics of the recent Jewish past.
(1977) centers on the late summer vacation of a Jewish
adolescent in Atlantic City in those nerve-wracking days before
the guns of September started booming in Poland.
(1986), his most recent entry, tells of the immigration of a teen-
aged German Jewish boy in the early Hitler years. He is adopted
by a Baltimore Jewish family with ways very different from his
own. The young hero is neither terribly convincing nor his
adjustment to a new culture either persuasive or interesting.
Jerome Charyn has failed to live up to the promise of an excep­
tional talent. His first novels featured predominantly Jewish
milieux. In later works he shifted sometimes to Italian or Polish
immigrants, but they are little more than substitutes for the Jew­
ish immigrant background he knows so well. For one whose keen