Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
fate .” T h e sound o f wings p repares for the voice o f the bird
as the n a r ra to r’s Yiddish voice comments not simply on the win­
dow, bu t on all thresholds tha t exclude Jews. This skinny black
bird called Schwartz contrasts with Harry Cohen, a heavy frozen
food salesman with “beefy shorts” who munches on a thick lamb
chop, while forcing the bird to subsist on the leanest diet.
Schwartz informs the Cohen family that he is flying bu t also
ru n n in g from “A n t i-S em e e ts .” In d e e d , th is “S em e e t ’s”
(seameat’s) diet consists o f herring . He is once removed from
a Jewfish, and he introduces himself in the m anner o f
Moby
Dick
with “Call me Schwartz” — Melville’s leviathan reduced
to Malamud’s flying fish.
When Cohen kills Schwartz, he twirls the albatross a round
and a round his head in ironic imitation o f the
kaporah
ritual
before flinging him ou t the window. T h e son o f the frozen food
salesman finds Schwartz’s body after the w inter’s snow melts,
and his mo ther tells him, in the final words o f the story, that
anti-Semeets killed the Jewbird. For Malamud, all men are Jews,
all boys Jewboys, all birds Jewbirds, all victims vicdmizers in
their suffering. (Malamud’s angel Levine, ano the r blackbird o f
a d iffe ren t feather, perform s a miracle and flies away, leaving
a white feather o f snow in his wake.) With a resigned sh rug
o f wings, in o r out, th rough ups and downs, tha t’s how it goes
in a fable o f Jewish fate and identity.
MALAMUD AND MENDELE
The o the r par t o f Malamud’s Pegasus appears in “Talking
Horse” which is indebted to Mendele’s
The Nag,
especially since
the horse-protagonist is named Abramowitz (Mendele’s real
name). The quesdon-and-answer format o f the story owes some­
thing to the talmudic tradition o f
pilpul
where Rabbis debated
issues endlessly, and to Buber’s I-Thou humanistic dialogue.
Abramowitz tries to figure ou t his identity by asking Goldberg,
his deaf-mute master who beats him and communicates by tap ­
ping Morse code messages on his head. Master and horse are
in terdependen t. “Am I a man in a horse o r a horse tha t talks
like a man?” Indeed , the story with its horsish or Yiddish syntax
and conditionals is as much about the na tu re o f questions and
q u e s tio n in g as it is ab o u t A b ram ow itz ’s m e tam o rpho s is .
Malamud challenges the reade r to comp rehend his Abramo-