How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel

March 9, 2016 | , , ,

Young Lions:
How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel
By Leah Garrett
Northwestern University Press, 275 pages, $34.95

Which works of Jewish literature do we remember, and which do we forget?

The story we like to tell about American Jewish literature in the mid-20th century is that in the 1950s, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth leapt to prominence with books that pulled off the trick of making Jews’ experiences relevant to everybody. Those writers remained prominent for half a century, and Roth, the only one still alive today (though allegedly retired), can still make the Internet take notice by griping about Wikipedia orhaving a birthday party. Over many productive decades, these three writers picked up every major prize open to Americans, from the Pulitzer to the Nobel.

Even before this “breakthrough,” though, Jewish writers were already doing just fine, thank you. (more…)

Storm Warning

In 1967, a failed playwright named Harold Cruse published The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, his provocative dissection of black culture. A fierce opponent of integration, Cruse turned a caustic eye on Lorraine Hansberry, Paul Robeson, and nearly every other prominent black thinker of his era (and those that came before it; the Harlem Renaissance, in his view, produced no work of real merit). He reserved special loathing, however, for a novelist by the name of John Oliver Killens. “Neither the originator of a single new concept, style, or exposition whether in literature or politics,” Cruse carped, “Killens has been the neutralizing temporizer, the non-controversial, moderating lid-sitter par excellence.” (more…)

Strange Times to Be a Jew

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
By Michael Chabon
HarperCollins. 432 pages. $26.95.

There’s no better way to describe Michael Chabon – who’s most famous for his monumental, Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – than as a literary superhero. He may not have X-ray vision or the ability to bend iron bars with his hands, but his gifts as a wordsmith are no less extraordinary or exuberant. In a new book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Chabon flexes his hypertrophied storytelling muscles once again, and puts on a dazzling show. (more…)