THE EMISSARY: A Life of Enzo Sereni by Ruth Bondy

THE EMISSARY: A Life of Enzo Sereni

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Little known in this country, Enzo Sereni--a leading Italian Zionist of the Twenties and Thirties--still has many admirers in Israel who remember his remarkable personality and achievements. Ruth Bondy, an Israeli journalist, calls her book The Emissary in tribute to Sereni's tireless travels through Europe and America as one of the Zionist ""shlichim,"" or proselytizing emissaries. Her style (as rendered here) has the same sort of breathless enthusiasm she so obviously admires in her subject. But Bondy's pregnant references to ""Providence"" and ""Fate"" betray her indifference to exploring the questions raised by Sereni's varied career. An assimilated and sophisticated Italian Jew, Sereni toyed with such idols as Saint Francis of Assisi, Tomaso Campanella, and Gabriele D'Annunzio before he embraced Zionism in 1921, when he was sixteen. In addition to strengthening his identity, Zionism enabled Sereni to reconcile his liberal and socialist values. He proclaimed himself ""Liberal for the sake of the freedom to criticize. . . and for the sake of systematic skepticism, and a Socialist as a political being. . . ."" Though a skeptic, he sedulously observed Hebrew ritual; though an egalitarian and ""a sensualist,"" he was also an elitist intellectual and a meddling matchmaker. Always quixotic, he dragged his reluctant wife from Rome to an arduous agrarian life in Palestine in 1927. In that rough environment he clashed with East European Jews no less stunned by his bookishness than by his zest for manual labor. Bondy describes Sereni's subsequent heroics as ""a Zionist Pimpernel"" in fulsome detail. Her melodramatic account ends with his tragic capture and his death at Dachau in 1944. Sereni's foodhardy decision to join the parachuting mission that led to his capture will not surprise readers who have come to admire his courage through this full but sentimental portrait.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1977
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown