Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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Nobody Chasing Everyman:
Canadian-Jewish Literature
t h e s u m m e r o f
1949, A.M. Klein, the found ing fa the r o f
Canadian-Jewish literature , travelled to the newly-founded State
o f Israel, ostensibly on a fact-finding mission fo r the Canadian
Jewish Congress. What eventually em erged from tha t jou rn ey
was Klein’s only novel,
The Second Scroll,
which chronicles the
creation o f Israel af te r the Holocaust. Roughly speaking, th e re ­
fore, the b irth o f Canadian-Jewish litera tu re may be said to co­
incide with the reb irth o f Israel af te r World War I I .1For Jewish
imm igrants from Europe , such a coincidence epitomizes the
choice o f Promised Lands between No rth America and Israel,
those dua l allegiances implicit in the hyphena ted life o f
Canadian-Jewish cu ltu re and society. Instead o f discovering any
kind o f jubilation , however, critics have been quick to po in t ou t
the overwhelming sense o f loss, exile, uproo tedness, o r aban­
donm en t tha t marks Jewish writing in Canada. (Gerson, p. 104;
Butovsky, p. 21)
Klein’s novel introduces some o f the problems involved in
establishing a Canadian-Jewish identity. Its two cen tral charac­
ters — a nameless n a r ra to r and his messianic uncle Melech
Davidson — rep resen t two ex trem e forms o f identity. On the
one hand , Uncle Melech may be seen as an elusive Jewish Ev­
eryman wandering th rough the Diaspora and Zion from po­
groms at the beginning o f the cen tury until his dea th shortly
af te r the establishment o f Israel. On the o the r hand , his nam e­
1. Strictly speaking, however, Klein had been publishing his poetry for decades
before the appearance o f his only novel. Henry Kreisel, who was influenced
by Klein, published his first novel,
The Rich Man,
in 1948. For the over­
lapping o f Hebraic and Canadian values, see Northrop Frye’s comments
in his “Conclusion” to the
Literary History of Canada,
ed. Carl Klinck, 1965:
p. 829.