writer

A Bard For Uncertain Times

01/24/2003

The cover illustration of Etgar Keret's first book in English shows a smiley-faced figure in the act of blowing its brains out. Inside, suicide, murder and other forms of mutilation are featured in a good portion of the "other stories" in "The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories."

Far from turning off readers, Keret's combination of bittersweet prose and morose subject matter has hit a nerve among Israelis born in an age of political and moral uncertainty.

'To Paint History'

11/07/2003
Staff Writer

When history touched Yonia Fain's life, it hit with gale force. For 30 years he was "dragged by the storm of events over half a world," the Brooklyn-based painter and Yiddish poet once wrote.

Between 1923 - when a 9-year-old Fain and his family fled Bolshevik Russia, and 1953 - when he settled in New York City - Fain outran Nazi troops in Poland, was imprisoned by the Soviets, escaped to Japan, was deported to China and eventually made his way to safety and artistic success in Mexico.

The Politics Of Humor

08/20/2008
Special To The Jewish Week

I was first baffled, then amused, and then finally inspired when I woke up this morning and read “The Daily Show” writer Rob Kutner’s blog entry on The Huffington Post: “My new book, ‘Apocalypse How,’ is about how the world is about to end ... and why we should be psyched! It’s the first-ever work of apocalyptic literature that ‘accentuates the positive’ — and teaches you how to not just survive, but thrive....”

The Paradox Of Bruno Schulz

12/27/2002
Special To The Jewish Week

It's unusual for three first-rate contemporary Jewish writers (Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, and David Grossman) to pay homage in their fiction to a somewhat obscure literary figure. But in Ozick's novella "The Messiah of Stockholm," Grossman's novel "See Under: Love," and Roth's story "The Prague Orgy," the gossamer figure of Bruno Schulz, the extraordinary Polish Jewish writer killed by the Nazis, predominates.

A Touch Of Grace

06/23/2006
Special To The Jewish Week

The New York Times Book Review's recent survey of the "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years" produced a number of interesting findings. The first was that, despite Toni Morrison's "Beloved" winning the prize, there were hardly any books by women among the multiple vote-getters. The second was that Philip Roth had far more of his books on the short list than anyone else, and if the Times had instead asked the question "Who is the best American writer of the last 25 years?" he would have won hands down.

A Psalm Of David

08/25/2006
Special To The Jewish Week

At almost the same moment last week that Uri Grossman, the 20-year-old son of Israeli novelist David Grossman, was reported killed in battle, I got news that an Israeli friend who had been called up to serve as a medic in the north of Israel had taken a David Grossman book with him.

When my friend came to California a few days ago for vacation, I asked him why he grabbed that particular book. He responded: “It was right there on my shelf. Anyway, I didn’t have time to get to the library.”

Imagining Jews

12/22/2006
Special To The Jewish Week

During the 1990s, the German writer W.G. Sebald published an extraordinary series of novels that redefined the way in which the Jews of Europe were imagined by non-Jews. In books like “The Emigrants” and “Austerlitz,” Sebald, who died five years ago in a car accident in his adopted country of England, created a narrator who traveled around the world recording the lives of Jews who were in permanent exile from their prewar lives.

Mr. Bellow’s Planet

04/29/2005
Special To The Jewish Week

At the Koret Jewish Book Awards last week in San Francisco, Stanford Professor and Koret Awards chair Steven Zipperstein asked for a minute of silence to remember Saul Bellow, who had just died. Zipperstein rightly praised Bellow for his unique contribution to Jewish and American letters, and we must give Bellow his due for helping create a new American language mixing high and low, combining the immigrant’s energy with the scholar’s subtlety.

The Superficial Reader

02/25/2005
Special to the Jewish Week

What is missing in the uniformly negative response to Wendy Shalit’s recent bombshell in the New York Times Book Review, about how Jewish fiction bashes Orthodoxy, is an acknowledgement of the partial correctness of her claim: That by and large, Orthodox Judaism is more often the focus of wicked satire than fulsome praise.

Shalit’s tone in her essay “The Observant Reader” was so dismissive, and her blurring of the lines between fiction and community P.R. so thorough, that it was hard to find the nugget of truth in her critique.

Dybbuks in America

06/21/1999
Special To The Jewish Week

In the first scene of “Angels in America,” Tony Kushner’s 1993 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning magnum opus, a rabbi appears on stage to eulogize an old Jewish woman he has never met. Standing on a bare stage with the coffin, he tells the assembled mourners that although the era of “Great Voyages” has passed, American Jews will still never quite be at home in America.

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