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Although the excitement that once swirled around American-Jewish fiction has diminished considerably, it is unlikely that either Jewish writers, or their critics, are likely to fall silent soon. If those who greeted Bellow and Malamud at the beginning of their great careers now talk soberly about acculturation closing the book on American-Jewish letters, others insist that a whole range of subjects—for [End Page 247] example, the Holocaust, Israel, even the nature of Jewishness itself—are now open for serious discussion.
Moreover, as Gloria L. Cronin and L. H. Goldman's recent gathering of Bellow criticism would have it, there are "waves" of Bellow criticism. After a thumbnail survey of the ten book-length studies that appeared during the 1980s (including everything from a reductive study of "Bellow's treatment of women" to an effort to paint Bellow as a thorough-going nihilist), the editors put the issue before them this way:
What we notice in these books is that they all move beyond Bellow's humanism to the particulars that go into making Bellow the kind of author he is. It is this interest in specific areas of concentration, as well as the courage to be distinctive, that make this second wave so much more interesting.
This present volume of essays, coming as it does at the end of the 1980's, rounds out the picture of the new topics of investigation undertaken by critics during this decade of renewed critical interest in Bellow. The topics are even more distinctive, more provocative, and more exciting.
No doubt some readers will claim Missouri as their stomping grounds and respond to such self-serving puffery with the "We'll see about that!" it clearly deserves. They will not be entirely wrong, for Saul Bellow in the 1980s is hardly the distinctive, provocative, or exciting collection its editors advertise. On the other hand, its eighteen essays represent a fair sampling of what academic critics thought and said about Bellow during the last decade.
By contrast, Inevitable Exiles: Cynthia Ozick's View of the Precariousness of Jewish Existence in a Gentile Society is as predictable, and as padded, as its title. If there was a time when Jewish intellectuals made much of their alienation, their marginality, their disconnectedness, now critics such as Kielsky fairly crow about their normative piety:
Just as the Jews are traditionally obligated to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt from generation to generation (the Passover Haggadah) for it should not be forgotten, they have the moral commitment to explain the inexplicable—to tell the story of the Holocaust—again and again, for it should never be repeated. Jewish tradition calls for forgiveness but not for forgetfulness. Whether they experienced the Nazi genocide personally or not, all Jews are in a sense survivors of the Holocaust. For her [Ozick], what separates Jews from Gentiles is this history, their Martyrdom.
And nowhere are they more pious, more in awe, than when they write about Cynthia Ozick. Unfortunately, what too often gets lost in the process is the magic, the imaginative fire, and perhaps most of all, the tensions that give her fictions such power.
By contrast, S. Lillian Kremer's Witness Through the Imagination is an admirable blending of Jewish learning and close reading. Sensitive to the arguments that would deny the very possibility of "Holocaust literature"—and particularly a literature written by those who did not experience the Shoah first-hand—and yet firmly committed to making a case for the contribution of Jewish-American writers such as Leslie Epstein (The King of the Jews) or Arthur A. Cohen (In the Days of Simon Stern), Kremer argues on behalf of what...