Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Rebbe and the Neurotic

Rodger Kamenetz, of The Jew in the Lotus fame, takes on Kafka and Rebbe Nachman in Burnt Books. Kamenetz sets a course to show us the similarities and differences between both men, and most importantly, the points of contact and departure of their respective fiction and stories. Both use parable to advance their own spiritual agendas. Both burned books and manuscripts they felt missed the mark (Kafka) or revealed esoteric secrets (Rebbe Nachman). Both were questioners, doubter, seekers and mercurial.

Kamenetz does a good job plotting these intricate courses, but sometimes gets lost and the narrative get tangled. We go from Kafka to the Rebbe to Kementz’s trip to Uman with no apparent sense. There is a great deal of repetition that could have been eliminated, and in the end, the sheer weight of Kafka’s and Rebbe Nachman’s unbending personalities make us wonder if there really is a connection between these two men worth extended investigation.

With that in mind, Kamenetz has still written a book that raises interesting questions about faith, doubt, and the art of writing. He just takes a while to get us there. 

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