Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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33
BLOCH----THE YEAR’S BOOKSHELF
up. Why the author made such a character a Jew is not quite
clear. His novel can certainly not be considered a true portrayal
of the dreams, hopes and aspirations of a Jew.
Arnold Zweig in
The axe of Wandsbek
(N. Y., Viking, ’47)
carried artistic detachment to the remarkable point where he, a
victim of Nazi persecution now living in Palestine, is able to write
a novel dealing with Germany in the nineteen-thirties that is in
no way an attempt to take literary revenge on history. I t is the
story of a pitiful butcher who, in an effort to pick up a bit of extra
money, fills in as the executioner of four condemned workers who
were implicated in the Reeperbahn case, and is later ruined by the
gossip of his neighbors, who are not concerned about the political
significance of what he has done but consider it a gruesome per-
version of his normal occupation. While directing his principal
character to an ironic finish, Zweig manages to sweep into his
story fragments from most levels of German society of the time —
amenable businessmen on their way up, a troubled Army officer,
dispossessed Jews, and restive intellectual and professional people.
While the major theme of the novel is the tragic disaster which
befell a “little man” who took Hitler seriously and actually be-
lieved in the promise of his “unalterable party program”, it also
presents a cross-section of life in Hamburg during 1937 and 1938
when Hitler’s plans for world conquest were beginning to bloom.
It carries the reader into the minds of a dozen or more varied
characters to show how their fortunes rose and fell after the four
anti-Nazi heads, one by one, rolled into the basket. If the butcher,
the main hero of the novel, represents the unthinking conformity
of a completely stupid man to Nazism, most of the other char-
acters represent the passive indifference of intelligent people.
Incidentally, in this novel, Mr. Zweig finds occasion to poke fun
at the desire of Jews to build up Palestine.
NOVELS OF JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA
Aspects of Jewish experience are reflected in several novels of
lesser significance than those already surveyed. They are indica-
tive of the fact that Jewish characters and Jewish life are receiving
a large measure of attention in widely read works of American
authors. A good novel done with incisiveness and skill is
The train
from Pittsburgh
by Julian Farren (N. Y., Knopf, ’48). I t covers
a single day in the life of an advertising executive, who against
the bitter opposition of his partner, wants to give a job in his firm
to a Jewish comrade. In Italy, the hero had not hesitated to beat
up a man who had insulted his friend, but the moral climate of