“The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century” by Adam Kirsch— Seminal Jewish Texts of the 20th Century

Kirsch, Adam. “The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century”, W.W. Norton, 2020.

Seminal Jewish Texts of the 20thCentury

Amos Lassen

Literary critic Adam Kirsch gives us “an erudite and accessible survey of Jewish life and culture in the twentieth century, as reflected in seminal texts.” His previous book “The People and the Bookslooked at more than 2,500 years of Jewish cultural expression”. Now he looks modern Jewish literature from the emigration of Jews out of Eastern Europe to the Holocaust to the creation of Israel, and in the works he looks at here we see that the twentieth century transformed Jewish life through Jewish writing: “the novels, plays, poems, and memoirs of Jewish writers provided intimate access to new worlds of experience.”

Through four themes— Europe, America, Israel, and the endeavor to reimagine Judaism as a modern faith, he explores what has been written. He shares discussions of major books by over thirty writers from Franz Kafka to Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel to Tony Kushner, Hannah Arendt to Judith Plaskow and argues that literature offers a new way to think about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world. Kirsch draws interesting parallels between both familiar and less familiar writers sheds new light on the literature of the Holocaust through the work of Primo Levi. He explores the emergence of America as a Jewish home through the stories of Bernard Malamud, and shows how Yehuda Amichai captured what makes up the Jewish identity. I have read many of the writers he mentions here but never in such a fascinating way. The book is areflection on how writers in Europe, America, and Israel dealt with the twentieth century. Kirsch gives us an introduction to our modern literature by introducing us to those who made it happen.

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