THE REFUSERS: An Epic of the Jews by Stanley Burnshaw

THE REFUSERS: An Epic of the Jews

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Ostensibly a trilogy--with a long poem, ""Mirages: Travel Notes in the Promised Land,"" as epilogue--poet Burnshaw's three narrative blocks of widely-spaced Jewish history really share only a few tacked-in references to common themes: Mosaic courage; the beleaguered tradition of Jewish free-thinking; the virtue of individual action to augment what ""a just and merciful Deity ought to have done."" And, in fact, of the three sections here, only the first, The Trial of Moses, has a true artistic tang of fiction to it. Burnshaw's Moses is intrepid, frequently doubted by the skeptics among his flock. But he is also a skeptic himself: he never actually hears from God, though he desperately wants to; on the mountain, in silence, he must fill in and improvise as best he can; the closest he comes to Divine Instruction is in frequent nightmares. And so--with a shortage of faith--Moses' strength of will and personality are forced to compensate magnificently. Biblically exact, with a certain muted psychological tension, this short novel is a little tedious, chalky in texture; but it is also always of steady, interpretive interest. Unfortunately, however, that can't be said of the two other narratives which follow. Uriel Da Costa is a recreation of the torment in 17th-century Amsterdam of a Portuguese Marrano Jew who, rejecting the rabbinic oral tradition, is excommunicated, tormented, and finally driven to suicide by the Jewish community (a more drastic foreshading of the story of Spinoza); it reads like a stilted radio play. And My Friend, My Father is an autobiographical portrait, apparently of Burnshaw's own father--a German immigrant Jew who became a driven, highly intelligent force in social welfare in the early part of this century; the effect here is that of an anthology of resurrected letters, papers, and diaries. Despite the title, then, this seems like a miscellaneous volume: writings of varying quality (dating, perhaps, from very different periods in Burnshaw's long career) rather than anything approaching a cohesive ""epic.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Horizon