THE MODERN JEWISH CANON

A JOURNEY THROUGH LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

A worthy effort that suffers from its own cloudy aims.

Wisse (If I Am Not for Myself, 1992) seeks to define a modern canon of works—in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German, Polish, Italian, and English—through which Jews have expressed their sense of who they are and what they have come to be in the years since the monopoly of their sacred literature was broken during the Enlightenment.

The phrase “Jewish canon” immediately suggests Torah in its fullest sense—the sacred book par excellence and the great corpus of exegesis and commentary that have grown up around it over two millennia and have been through most of that time the center of Jewish education and the source of Jewish identity. After an introduction that discusses the notion of canon, Wisse’s ten chapters consider examples of “canonical” Jewish fiction from the Tevye stories of Sholem Aleichem to the Hebrew literature of modern Israel. She writes incisively about a representative work of each writer and manages to sustain a sense of dialogue among the works she examines in each chapter; even readers familiar with all of the writers discussed will find new insights here. But there are limitations to this approach, as the author herself admits. Her canon is restricted ethnically to Ashkenazi Jews; it is restricted in genre to long works of prose fiction; and some important and interesting writers like Chaim Grade are mentioned only in passing. More fundamentally, Wisse never quite faces the tension between the old Jewish canon and the modern one she has constructed. What is the relationship between the national or cultural reading of Jewishness operative in this canon and the religion of Judaism? The Zionist project seems to function here as the telos of modern Jewish history, as Israel becomes the geographical and spiritual center of Jewry and Hebrew replaces Yiddish as its most widely spoken language. Yet in Shabtai’s novel, with which this study ends, Israeli society seems frozen in anomie and despair. Is it only the pressure of Arab hatred that makes it so?

A worthy effort that suffers from its own cloudy aims.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-83075-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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