STARSTRUCK IN THE PROMISED LAND by Shalom Goldman

STARSTRUCK IN THE PROMISED LAND

How the Arts Shaped American Passions About Israel
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The considerable effects of literature, music (popular and classical), and other arts on Americans’ attitudes about Israel.

Goldman (Religion/Middlebury Coll.; Jewish-Christian Difference and Modern Jewish Identity: Seven Twentieth-Century Converts, 2015, etc.) delivers a studied and sturdy look at what the subtitle promises. He also inserts elements of memoir, describing his youthful experiences in Israel, his time in the military there, and some negative reactions to his writing and talks about Israel’s rightward turn. (He is deeply concerned about the rise of the right and American evangelicals’ unquestioning support for it.) Although artists and their works are his principal focus, Goldman does not assume that readers know the history of the Middle East from the early 19th century. Consequently, in each chapter, he includes historical background of each period he discusses across the chronological narrative. We revisit the Ottoman Empire, the founding of the country after World War II, the Six-Day War, Camp David, the various Israeli political leaders throughout the decades—and much more. As a result, his discussions of the artists sometimes slip into the swelling undergrowth. He tells stories about Herman Melville—who visited the Middle East after the publication of Moby-Dick; the result of that journey was Clarel, his “book-length poem based on his Holy Land experiences”—and Mark Twain, whose travels, chronicled in The Innocents Abroad, 1869, began his rocket ride into international celebrity. Throughout, Goldman explores the works of a variety of luminaries, including Leonard Bernstein, Frank Sinatra, John Steinbeck, Leon Uris, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin, W.H. Auden, Johnny Cash, Madonna, and numerous others. But he also informs us about lesser-known events and people—e.g., the Adams Colony (1866), the building of the YMCA in Jerusalem (1933), and the life of Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes. Near the end, he has some critical words for Donald Trump.

Textually dense at times but effectively highlights the left-right division that is splitting much of the world.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4696-5241-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019