The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century

Adam Kirsch. Norton, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393652-40-6
Kirsch’s excellent follow-up to 2016’s The People and the Books again explores “central aspects of Jewish experience” through essential reading material. This time he focuses on crucial works of 20th-century literature by authors including Saul Bellow, Martin Buber, Franz Kafka, and Elie Wiesel. Kirsch argues that events of the 20th century caused a “liquidation of the Jewish concept of exile” and also caused a dramatic expansion of Jewish literature, through which it became “possible to gain an unprecedentedly rich and intimate understanding of Jewish experience.” The ways in which exile was mooted—by the Holocaust, by American acceptance of Jews, and the creation of the nation of Israel—are explored in three geographic sections: Europe, where Jews saw their future disappear; the U.S., where, in Kirsch’s estimation, Jews could voluntarily abandon “most of what had long defined Jewishness”; and Israel, where writers confronted the “tension between Zionist dream and Israeli reality.” Kirsch smoothly places the unprecedented events of the last century in a broad literary context that will help readers deepen understanding of them. Kirsch’s wide, trenchant reading of Jewish writings provides insight for lay readers and scholars alike. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 06/12/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Religion
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