SCATTERED AMONG THE PEOPLES: The Jewish Diaspora in Twelve Portraits

Allan Levine, Author . Overlook $35 (432p) ISBN 978-1-58567-357-5

This sprawling, highly readable historical survey seeks to answer the question of Jewish survival: "What mysterious power had permitted this remarkable ancient people to withstand centuries of persecution and tragedy?" Rather than weave a massive tapestry of 5,000 years of Jewish chronology, historian Levine (Fugitives of the Forest) focuses on 12 Jews who, between the years 1492 and 1967, were forced into exile. This focus on individuals—mostly noted historical figures although not necessarily popularly known—provides the book with a firm organizational spine, and allows the author to paint vivid, emblematic portraits. Samuel Oppenheimer, for instance, embodies the European "court Jew"; Abraham Pereira epitomizes Sephardic Jews who fled Portugal and settled in the Netherlands; and Boris Kochubiyevsky is emblematic of Jews who fought in the 1960s to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to Israel. At its best, Levine's account is insightful, informative and great popular history. He has an easy style and can pack a wealth of information into a brief essay—in discussing Judah Leib Gordon, mid-19th-century poet, Levine deftly explicates the politics of prerevolutionary Russia, the cultural meaning of "the pale of settlement," the Haskalah and the Jewish anti-Zionist movement. The downside is that at times the book sacrifices scholarly detail for popular impact. Levine is more eager to find similarities than differences among the Diaspora experiences, and as wide-ranging as his study is, it reflects a degree of homogenization of the Jewish experience. In spite of this, he has produced an entertaining and useful book for readers new to the subject. 36 b&w illus. (Sept. 26)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-58567-606-4
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