- At Odds in the World: Essays on Jewish Canadian Women Writers
Ruth Panofsky's At Odds in the World: Essays on Jewish Canadian Women Writers addresses the work of such well-known figures as AdeleWiseman and Miriam Waddington, alongside lesser-known figures, including Helen Weinzweig, Nora Gold, and Fredelle Bruser Maynard. Although this collection is not a survey of the field, it does reflect a period in Canadian literary life from the mid-1950s, when Wiseman's novel The Sacrifice won the Governor General's Award, up to the 2004 appearance of Lilian Nattel's The Singing Fire. Panofsky states her overarching theme in gathering essays on these writers' work to be a depiction of how 'Jewish Canadian women have written to "inscribe an experience of existential displacement and exile, of 'Otherness' as sources of anguish and anger."' In the case of Gold and Wiseman, Panofsky examines how their work can be seen to 'question the patriarchal practices and world-view of traditional Judaism.' Throughout her study, echoing its title, she aims to depict how 'Jewish female characters' are often 'at odds in the world.' [End Page 519]
Panofsky is careful to account for the way that the authors' own background influences their writerly views. She points to Waddington's secular Yiddishist upbringing, quoting from a 1943 notebook where Waddington addressed
this problem of identity . . . first I sink into the entity of me - Miriam. Then Miriam is absorbed & sunk & drowned in the great beard of Jew. Then, outside that circle, or interwoven, is the area of system. I identify with a communist system . . . . Then there's the world. Physical world of streets, sun, people, jazz. In all of these are me.
In her discussion of Weinzweig it is the author's late start as a writer and her deep entanglement in family life, as well as in her husband's music career, that underwrite the direction of Weinzweig's oeuvre. Such autobiographical concerns are less central in the discussion of Wiseman, Gold, and Nattel, where thematic material is linked more directly with feminist concerns found in the broader culture. Panofsky has written elsewhere of the peculiarities of Wiseman's career's rise and fall, and here she focuses on the role of prostitute figures in the shifting presentation of female identity in The Sacrifice and Crackpot. Nattel's The Singing Fire, the follow-up to her successful first novel, The River Midnight, leads Panofsky to a discussion of the social history surrounding Jewish prostitutes and their relationship to conventional communities.
Although Panofsky makes use of reviews, interviews, and critical essays in her discussions, the lack of a thoroughgoing critical context within which to view her subjects' careers is notable. Even Wiseman, whose work was influential, has not, beyond Panofsky's own biographical and critical studies, been treated to a substantial scholarly reception. In this way, At Odds in the World functions as an introduction for readers who have not encountered the writers under discussion, as well as an examination of the authors' relationship to the Jewish Canadian literary tradition.
Norman Ravvin, Department of Religion, Concordia University