Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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Yet ironically, just these limitations of narrative mode became
the evident means in the creation of Klein’s fictional masterwork
The Second Scroll
(1951). Its publication was clearly the most
auspicious moment in Klein’s literary career. At long last he
had impressed a renowned American publishing house —
Knopf — and was now granted the possibility of reaching a
wider audience than the narrow Canadian or ethnic one he
was unhappily accustomed to. The novel that had caught the
publisher’s attention (Maurice Samuel was a reader whose en­
thusiasm was unqualified) is a peculiar document. It is a hybrid
form, consisting, first, of a compact 120-page prose narrative,
structured and titled as a contemporary Pentateuch from Gen­
esis to Deuteronomy. The five books are then followed by five
glosses, some of which are poems or prose pieces that had ap­
peared earlier, and only obliquely comment on the preceeding
narration. The books and commentary signify Klein’s daring
attempt to incorporate the modern Jewish experience into the
semblance of holy writ, to adapt the forms of sacred texts to
the sanctification of the Jew’s ordeal and triumph in the 20th
The circumstantial origin of the novel lies in the journey to
Europe, North Africa and Israel that Klein undertook in July
and August, 1949. His “Notebook of a Journey,” published on
his return, records his immediate response to the historic drama
of exile and homecoming, which he read encoded in his own
latter-day trip. He translated the personal venture into an epic
quest novel — albeit in concentrated form — tracing the
narrator’s search for his illustrious but elusive uncle, Melech
Davidson. So named, the reader is alerted to the messianic im­
port of the quest and effortlessly charts the progress of the
search as the redemptive hunger of Israel as it makes its an­
guished way across blood-stained Europe and North Africa
seeking respite from the ravages and humiliations of exile.
The plot is propelled by the series of near-meetings between
nephew and uncle. At each occasion another of the uncle’s in­
tellectual and moral qualities are revealed until he emerges as
a composite of collective traits Judaism had absorbed in its long
diasporic sojourn. Finally, the hero traces the unreachable uncle
to the newly-created State of Israel only to confront him as
an early martyr to Jewish nationhood, victim of an Arab attack
which incinerated the body and rendered Melech Davidson’s