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and Other Stories

by S.Y. Agnon

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8052-4120-5
Publisher: Schocken

 Twenty-five stories by the late giant of modern Hebrew literature. Some of these tales--11 in all--appeared in Twenty-One Stories (1970); over half are appearing in English for the first time. In their vigorous, scholarly commentary, editors Mintz (Modern Hebrew Literature/Brandeis) and Hoffman (English and Comparative Literature/Fordham) stress the stories' connections with Agnon's own life (18881970), in particular the narrators' travels through the lost, remembered, and emerging cultures of Polish and German Jewry and the land of Israel before and after statehood. Although the editors warn that readers unacquainted with classical or modern Hebrew, or the traditional practice, ritual, and learning of the Diaspora, will have difficulty with Agnon's opaque symbols and obscure inflections, in fact most of the tales are immediately involving even without the additionally helpful notes and glossary. The spare, moving title piece sounds an existential theme that often pulses in Agnon's work. The narrator recalls his vanished Polish village, in which as a youth he found a rabbinical commentary by a saintly, long-dead man and made small, loving sacrifices in order to send the manuscript to the great library in Jerusalem. But the book (by this time a solid presence in the reader's mind) never arrived; like the slaughtered inhabitants of the extinct town, it now exists only in the narrator's acute yearning for its restoration. In ``On the Road,'' ghosts arise from mists and return; ``The Sign'' brings a murdered village to life in a dead cantor's song, which itself disappears...where? Crucial decisions--to act, to fill a belly, to feel the love of a woman (as in ``Hill of Sand'')--are often ironically sidestepped. Important work, carefully and attractively presented, from the 1966 Nobel-winner.