NEW YORK JEW by Alfred Kazin
Kirkus Star


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Now and again through this memoir of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties, critic Kazin refers to the problem he had with his first autobiographical work, A Walker in the City: it ""included everything in New York except me."" And ""me"" remains a problem for Kazin, who is marvelously lucid and firmly grounded here as long as he is eyeing the places and people he has known--at The New Republic, as wartime correspondent for Fortune, as teacher, traveler, and a leading light of New York's literati. London under siege, Germany under guilt, New York from orgone boxes to Brownsville arson. Complacent Van Wyck Brooks in his ""wonderful white linen waistcoat. . . gently slipping away from every public topic and literary issue."" Lionel Trilling, ""intent on not diminishing his career by a single word."" Henry Luce, ""lending an ear to any overcharged thinker with a mission. . . a man puzzled by the limits he had set himself."" Ancient Robert Frost afraid of going to bed, Paul Goodman drawing ""every experience into himself like a gull snapping up a fish,"" power-hungry W. W. Rostow's ""professional boyishness,"" old Leo Stein's resentment of dead Gertrude (""She never liked Picasso at first!""), Bellow and Hannah Arendt and Robert Lowell (even as a ""happily excited"" Commie-hunter) in remarkable focus. But Kazin is after much more than a book of critical portraits. He wants to confront himself as the conflict-ridden, Russian-Jewish-socialist from Brooklyn--son, lover, husband, father, and angrily involved witness to mid century's crises the Holocaust, McCarthyism, the Camelot illusion, the Vietnam protest years. And with this material, weaving a dense, almost free-associating fabric of intellect and emotion, Kazin is less successful. It's often difficult to find a flesh-and-bone ""me"" behind the exhibitionistic but evasive confessions straining for poetry (the woman-trouble stuff reads like Bellow without the pulse), behind the socio-political generalizations straining to be the Last Word. This is not posing, but a sincere, ambitious grappling, and the effort itself is stimulating. Kazin's customary strengths, however--as shrewd critic and warm portraitist--are what will make this demanding, often murky life-and-times required reading for anyone alive and alert to 20th-century American writing.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1978
ISBN: 0815604130
Publisher: Knopf