Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

Basic HTML Version

J EW I S H BOOK A N N U A L
74
Yehuda Yaari, whose novel,
When the Candle Was Burning
(London, Gollancz, 1947), was rendered into English by Menahem
Hurwitz, is an interesting and talented writer. This book is a
provocative study of twenty men and four girls who, after much
anxiety and tension, finally find peace in their lives. The chief
character is Yoseph, a lost soul, who achieves his own peace of
mind in a disease-infested colony in Palestine, when he finally
realizes that he can have no soul whatsoever until he plunges into
the abyss of human suffering.
The vast panorama of Jewish history has always been a fertile
source of material for novels and short stories. Ari Ibn-Zahav’s
novel,
Jessica
,
My Daughter
, translated by Julian Meltzer (New
York, Crown, 1948) is a striking example of historical reconstruc-
tion, based on Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” After
thorough and painstaking study of Italian Jewish history, Ibn-
Zahav has retold the original Shakespearean play from the Jewish
point of view, and the vilified Shylock emerges as an oppressed
human being, who after winning the right to his “pound of flesh”
proclaims: “Let my soul be damned! I cannot — I cannot do
it!”
A leading figure among younger Israeli writers is Yitzhak
Shenberg. Born in the Ukraine in 1905, he came to Palestine in
his youth and for many years worked as a laborer. He has since
achieved prominence as a short story writer and as a translator
from English, German, and Russian into Hebrew. Five of his
stories comprise the volume,
Under the Fig Tree
(New York,
Schocken Books, 1948), translated with skill and sensitiveness by
I. M. Lask. Written in an exceptional prose style, Shenberg’s
narratives breathe the everyday life of Israel. Although he is a
highly skilled craftsman who exploits fully the devices of the
professional storyteller, Shenberg never permits his technique to
become dominant but, rather, uses it to explore more penetratingly
the psychological processes of his various characters.
Besides the books of individual authors mentioned above, there
are several worthwhile anthologies available in English, which
contain samplings from the rich modern Hebrew literature —
from simple, appealing narratives to highly colored and polished
lyrics.
First we must mention Harry Fein’s poetry translations, which
he has published in three volumes:
A Harvest of Hebrew Verse;
Titans of Hebrew Verse;
and
Gems of Hebrew Verse: Poems for
Young People
(all by Bruce Humphries in Boston, 1934, 1936, and
1940). These splendid collections contain specimens of the works
of such poets as Judah Loeb Gordon, nineteenth century fore-
runner of Bialik, whose every poem is a battle cry; Zalman