Monday, September 16, 2013

The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories

You’re in some seriously weird territory in The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories, edited by Ilan Stavans.   

First, collecting a series of stories under the rubric “Jewish” is difficult by definition.  What is a “Jewish” story?  The answer is, there is really no such thing.  Many of the stories in this collection have little, if any, Jewish content.  So, the reader must seek underlying or unconscious Jewish content, and suddenly one is in an interpretative world with many pitfall and few benefits.

With this central question unanswered, the collection stands tottering and uneven.  It spans the globe, gives the reader a glimpse into figures long since receded into the literary dustbin (like Israel Zangwill), contemporary powerhouses like Roth, Oz, Bellow, and a lot in between, and old masters like Agnon.

So, this collection will please few.  Yes, there is a selection to choose from; sure it is necessarily broad and inclusive, yet somehow, for all that effort, the stories lacks emotional or intellectual punch.   

It is as if the editor picked breadth over content.

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