Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: עד הנה

Well, I spent most of Shabbat reading a translation of a Shai Agnon book into English (which is a bit useless because he specifically uses a very pure, biblical Hebrew, and endless Talmudic references that are lost on the average English reader). It's an interesting book though, sort of an autobiographical novella, the kind I enjoyed when reading Down and Out in Paris and London. . .
To be honest, this was my first introduction to Agnon, and I'm actually impressed. ..not by his writing, of course (I'm unfortunately not yet facilitated enough in Literary analysis to tell a good writer from a bad one) but from his level of religious adherence.

Agnon came from Ukraine, but moved to Palestine in his teens. After a few years he went to Germany. Basically, the book is Agnon talking about his time in Germany during the first World War, floating between apartments and meeting up with interesting people. At the end of it he returns to Palestine.

For someone like me reading a work like that, I see my own life and opinions reflected in his; a religious Eastern European Jew, who spent time in Palestine and yearns to go back, yet who is stuck in Western Europe in the meantime, among the German Jews who he does not fully understand. And not only is it true for me on the physical level, but on the metaphoric too; I'm also a Jew who struggles between his "traditionalist" Eastern European past and his more Western European present, who pities the narrow-mindedness of the Galician Jew, yet abhors the open-ness of the Westerners and suspects the German-ness of Western Jews. In my "analogy" the Ultra-Orthodox communities are synonymous with Poland, the General (American).society as the West, and American Jews as, of course, Western Jews.

It takes a while of getting into the book before these undercurrents become apparent though. But like I said, the first thing that struck me was his modest and unspoken observance of ritual Judaism even while interacting with some of his well-to-do German friends who had no idea he was Jewish. And his seeing all the events of his life from a Talmudic and a Hebrew-poetic perspective.

Ugh, this is not being articulated as I thought it might. Oh well, the basic idea is here, and I can always return to edit..


frum single female said...

sounds like an interesting book. sadly, i too will be reading the english translation as it would take me forever to read the hebrew.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Anyway, the Hebrew for such an obscure Agnon book would be hard to get your hands on in America, even in NY! ..but it's cool to see you'll be reading it's quite short though.