Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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Zohar, Saadyah Gaon, Bialik, Tchernichovsky, Peretz, and
Sholom Aleichem, are spoken in the same critical vocabulary
as his reviews of work by Rilke, Pound, Sartre, or Yeats. By
conjoining these literary worlds Klein implicitly made the case
for their common relevance to the contemporary Jew. The ap­
parent gulf between Jewish and general culture could be
bridged by establishing the common artistic attributes they
shared, and in this way the centrifugal force of diaspora life
which separated the traditional texts from the external world,
could be resisted.
While the literary essays reveal something of Klein’s need to
unify the two worlds of his being — the life of the Jews and
the life of literature — their effect on the intended audience
remains unclear. Klein’s desire to instruct his readers was most
certainly impeded by his rhetoric and sophistication. He could
never assume the ingratiating confidentiality of some Anglo-
Jewish editors and, in consequence, his biographer informs us
that most of his writing was above the heads of his readers,
a fact that must have weighed heavily on a writer who conceived
of himself as tribune of his people.
Throughout his writing life Klein continually turned to fic­
tional forms as well as poetry. The publishing history of his
fiction was even more problematic than his verse, and of the
Short Stories
(1983) almost all were published in Zionist
periodicals or in the local Jewish weekly. Most of the stories
are deeply embedded in the Jewish past and seem modelled
on the Yiddish and Hebrew fictions of Peretz, Bialik, and
Agnon. The distance between Klein and his subject matter is,
however, considerably greater than that which inhered between
the social and religious milieu of these predecessors and the
representation of that reality in their fiction. That distance is
felt in the self-conscious artifice of Klein’s story-telling: symbolic
plotting replaces the natural flow of events, representative types
appear more frequently than full-rounded characters. While
the stories are a significant part of the writer’s complete im­
aginative life, on the whole they fail to compel. Their auton­
omous power to move the reader rarely survives the too-evident
scaffolding of plot manipulation and authorial direction.