Four essays on Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon by the Israeli novelist Oz (The Story Begins, 1999, etc.), who may well be his greatest living heir.
At the outset, Oz readily and gratefully acknowledges Agnon as ``one of my literary mentors.'' The essays in this volume, three of which have never before appeared in English, trace the development of what Oz believes to be the core theme in Agnon's work, namely, the irrevocable collapse of the system of traditional Jewish belief and its disastrous implications for the men and women who have come to live in Israel, acting out of their belief in either Zionism or Judaism (or both). ``There is no way back,'' Oz solemnly intones early on, from the tormented contradictions that have made such a collapse inevitable. Following a general introductory essay, originally delivered as a speech in honor of the older author, Oz offers essays on ``Tehilah,'' one of Agnon's most poignant stories, and on the novels A Simple Story and Only Yesterday (whose first Englishlanguage translation is being published simultaneously with this volume). Oz writes with a simplicity, clarity, and passion that are all too often missing from academic literary criticism these days. Unfortunately, as the author himself acknowledges, these essays are meant to be read in tandem with the works they analyze and, for those unfamiliar with the Agnon oeuvre, they will often be baffling, even infuriatingly so. Like her work on Only Yesterday (see p.316), Harshav's translation is exemplary.
A highly intelligent book, but one destined for Oz completeists and Agnon scholars.