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Proofiexts195 How a Samovar Helped Me Theorize Latin American Jewish Literature Nelson H. Vieira. Jewish Voices in Brazilian Literature: A Prophetic Discourse of Alterity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995, xiv + 256 pp. Lois Barr. Isaac Unbound: Patriarchal Traditions in the Latin American Jewish Novel. Tempe: Arizona State University, 1995, 201 pp. Nora Glickman and Gloria Waldman, eds. Argentine Jewish Theatre: A Critical Anthology. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1996, 346 pp. Darrell Lockhart, ed. Jewish Writers of Latin America: A Dictionary. New York Garland, 1997, xxxiii + 612 pp. There is a marvelous story by Eduardo Stilman about a silver samovar. It begins like this: "I last saw the silver samovar long ago, before that moment when you forget your beginnings and start to learn the names of things" ("Al samovar de plata lo vi por última vez hace mucho tiempo, antes de esa hora en que uno se olvida de donde vino para empezar a aprender el nombre de las cosas," "Triste sería" [How sad it would be], 9). The story goes on to caressingly describe the prodigious object—its polished ebony handles, the finely carved arabesques in the shape of bat wings, the mischievously turned spigot that never poured a drop of tea, and the deep inviting hollowness, a refuge for all manner of items: misplaced buttons, sugar cubes, bits of toys—until one day the samovar disappears. That is where the story really begins. Everyone in the household searches for the precious artifact with unremitting anxiety. Father frantically undoes beds and closets; Aunt Mariela and Uncle Ignacio turn the house upside-down; Mother interrupts her Sunday piano sessions to look; Grandmother spends hours sighing and staring at the spot in the dining room where the samovar might have been, then leafing through photo albums of times gone by. The narrator, in those days a little boy, expands the hunt as he grows up, asking friends, visiting auction houses, quizzing antiquarians, remembering the family searches. The story concludes with these elusive words: "But how sad it would be if it were all a bunch of lies, and I'd never really fingered my elders' igneous silver samovar, as palpably as Borges fingered Lafinur's dagger" ("Sería triste que todo fueran puras macanas, que yo no haya tanteado de veras, tan palpablemente como Borges tanteo el puñal de Lafinur, el ígneo samovar de plata de mis mayores," 13).1 What are we to make of this tale, so pulsating with suggestion? To put the question differently: How can we categorize this tale? More bluntly, where can we pigeonhole it? Is it Argentine? The author lives in Buenos Aires; that is where the book was published, and there is the almost requisite reference to Borges. Is it Latin American? It is written in Spanish and alludes intertexhially to Borges's poem about Lafinur's dagger, forged in Toledo and wielded in bloody nineteenthcentury independence struggles and gaucho wars (el puñal).2 Is it Jewish— 196REVIEWS perhaps the most slippery category of all? Although my descriptions of Argentineity and Latin Americanness may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, I think many would be ready to concede certain markers of identity—foremost, language and literary tradition. That is true of the field of Latin American Jewish Studies as well. Its primary signs of identity have been Argentine, or Brazilian, or Mexican, or Chilean—in short, Latin American, and more accurately, Luso-Latin American. The authors of the books I am reviewing are all Latin Americanists, whose "locus ofenunciation," to use current Critspeak, is the university department of Hispanic and Lusophone literature. But to go back to the silver samovar: Is the narrative Jewish? If it is, why do we have more trouble defining it as such? To shuttle back to the disciplinary level again, why are we, in Latin American Jewish Studies, not part ofJewish Studies as a whole? Are we, like the fiery water urn of Eurasian origin, too baffling, too exotic, too marginal? In her provoking essay collection, What Is Jewish Literature? (whose title, not un-Jewishly, takes the form of a question), Hana Wirth-Nesher attempts to define "the indefinable."3 She announces at the outset...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 195-204
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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