Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

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J EW I S H BOOK A N N U A L
72
a selection of his letters and some hitherto untranslated fragments
from his memoirs.
One of the most singular figures in Hebrew literary history was
Aaron David Gordon (1856-1922), our second essayist. Nigh on
to fifty when he came to Palestine, Gordon immersed himself
in agricultural labor, finally joining Degania, the oldest collective
settlement, where he spent his leisure hours writing voluminous
essays and open letters. In these compositions, permeated with
the teachings of Tolstoy and Carpenter, Gordon proclaimed his
“religion of labor.” His doctrines had a profound influence upon
the labor movement in Palestine and fostered the ideal of returning
to the soil. Quite a few of his essays have been translated by
Frances Burnce, edited by Teradyon and Shohat, and appear
under the title of
Selected Essays by A. D. Gordon
(Boston,
1938).
We come now in our survey to the field of fiction. Let us say
outright: Hebrew novels rank today with the most interesting
produced anywhere, but unfortunately few outsiders have even a
remote idea of the countless stories of quality that are being
written in Israel. By far the greater number of Hebrew novels
are not at all escapist in aim, rather are they concerned with
real life, which they portray and interpret both in its vast social
aspects and in the microcosm of one or several individual human
beings. To read them is to share in the hopes, perplexities, visions,
and problems of the contemporary Jewish soul.
SAMUEL JOSEPH AGNON
Perhaps the foremost novelist in modern Hebrew letters is
Samuel Joseph Agnon, who was born in Galicia in 1888. His
ten-odd volumes of novels and short stories, whether revolving
about life in Galicia or in Palestine, are in essence a folk-biography,
the collective portrait of an entire people; and he, Agnon, is the
humble, unobtrusive, but faithful biographer. Reading his
glowing prose is pure delight. In sheer mastery of language,
nothing superior has been created in modern Hebrew literature.
The first of Agnon’s works to appear in English translation —
his stories have been translated into German, Swedish, and a
dozen other languages — was
The Bridal Canopy
, translated by
I. M. Lask (New York, Doubleday, 1937). I t is a joyous, full-
blooded story about a poor but devout Jew who sets out to travel
in quest of dowries for his three dowerless daughters. He is
accompanied by his lusty waggoner, and together they form such
a pair as Cervantes wrote of. The account of their wanderings is
spiced with interpolated tales, asides, pieties, and poems, which