The Battle of Gettysburg was 150 years ago, but that’s a blink of an eye in history. An uncanny intimacy with the past is what Jewish culture brings to American history.
Cynthia Ozick is one of America’s greatest living writers. What makes her work breathtaking is its unvarying subject, a single idea that encompasses all that marks American life, Jewish tradition and every other challenge to the world as it is: ambition. From ancient times, the desire to change the world, or even merely to change one’s life, was what distinguished Israel from other nations. But Ozick understands that ambition as we now know it is actually a form of idolatry, a worshipping of fame and approval over integrity. What makes her work not merely breathtaking, but also necessary, is her awareness of ambition’s opposite: freedom.
Michael Wex, author of the best-selling book “Born To Kvetch,” is the “Sneaky Chef” of contemporary Jewish culture. Like the cookbook author who advises parents to slip puréed broccoli into the brownie batter, Wex writes books that look and read like snacks, but he hides scholarly vegetables between the covers. Few people who buy Wex’s latest work, cheerily titled “How To Be a Mentsh (& Not a Shmuck),” will suspect that they are about to read a book-length commentary on the Mishnah, and they probably wouldn’t have bought it if they had known. But Wex makes all this go down easy, for that is what he does best.
“Wandering Stars,” a new translation of which will be released in February, is one of several novels by Sholom Aleichem that directly address the peculiar challenges of the Jewish artist.
While giving a lecture in Central Oregon recently about my novel “The World To Come,” whose story incorporates the works of many Yiddish writers, I was asked a remarkable question by someone in the very non-Jewish audience: “What do we lose by not reading Yiddish literature?”
It is mainly Jewish readers who think of Kafka as a Jewish writer. This isn’t a matter of possessiveness, the way one claims a sports hero for an ethnic group — after all, if one wanted to claim a writer to carry the Jews into world literature, would it be asking too much to pick someone, well, happier? — but rather a matter of Kafka’s work itself. Jewish readers cannot help but hear the echoes of the Dreyfus Affair in “In the Penal Colony,” or those of the blood libel in “The Trial”; such readers see in Kafka’s famous cockroach a horrifying caricature of the way others have so often seen them — and worse, the way they sometimes see themselves. Nor is this awareness mere suspicion. Though none of his published works mention it explicitly, Kafka’s private letters and diaries reveal an interest in Jewish identity verging on obsession.
Each month, in coordination with our reading series in New York, the Forward publishes an excerpt from the work of that month’s series guest or guests. This month, we will feature readings by Dara Horn and Aviya Kushner (for full details, please see sidebar). Below, please find an excerpt from Horn’s new novel, “The World To Come” (W.W.
Among the recurring questions that I and other writers are often asked — along with, “How long did it take you to write the book?” and “Do you use a pencil or a pen?” — there is one that almost always comes up: “Is anyone else in your family a writer?”Those who ask this question are usually wondering about the writer’s parents or