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Book Reviews 157 New Essays on Call It Sleep, edited by Hana Wirth-Nesher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 192 pp. $29.95 (c); $13.95 (p). The interest in and admiration for Henry Roth's 1934 masterwork, Call It Sleep, continues unabated-indeed, increases year by year since its legendary recovery in the 1960s as one ofthe great Jewish American, American, and world literary achievements of this century. The story of the book's reception-its generally extremely favorable reviews (with the exception of one obtuse short notice in New Masses) when the book fIrst appeared; its long obscurity (25 years out ofprint) until Leslie Fiedler and Alfred Kazin singled it out in 1956 as an unjustly neglected book; and the unparalleled frontpage review in the New York Times Book Review by Irving Howe of its 1964 paperback re-issue that led to a million-copy sale-has been often told and is part ofcontemporary publishing legend. The story of Roth's long "writer's block," from 1934 until the appearance from 1994 to 1996 (the year of his death) of his thousand-page trilogy, Mercy ofa Rude Stream, has been equally legendary, and much ink has been spilt, to no conclusive result, about the reasons for the hiatus. Meanwhile, studies ofthe novel from the time of its recovery have been steady and impressive-everyone writing on Jewish American themes has had to confront this lion in the path (which has been hailed by leading critics as the most Jewish novel ofits time), William Styron has called it a classic ofAmerican literature, and it has grown as a major text in the study oftwentiethcentury modernism. Roth's debt to Joyce and Eliot has long been acknowledged, but his original extensions of these influences to a point where he is being seen, especially in the novel's concluding section, as a forerunner of post-modernism is a major focus of discussion. To Bonnie Lyons's critical-biographical essay (Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 38, Daniel Walden, ed., Gale, 1984) and a few early 80s essays (Bruce Robbins, "Modernism in History, Modernism in Power," and Wayne Lesser, "A Narrative's Revolutionary Energy: The Example ofHenry Roth's Call It Sleep")I must be added this profound collection by Hana Wirth-Nesher as indispensable work on this extraordinary novel. Wirth-Nesher, an Israeli scholar, contributes an illuminating introduction which refers to and extends her pioneering work on the novel's multiple languages-chiefly Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic. The "internal struggle for the protagonist's self-defmition," she writes, "is enacted in the novel as a kulturkampJ, a battleground of languages" (p. 7). She sees the Jewish American identity ofDavid Schearl as "forged in the clash of languages and dialects coursing through his consciousness in the book's climactic lIn, respectively, Modernism Reconsidered, eds. Robert Kiely and John Hidebidle (<:;ambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983) and Criticism 23.2 (Spring 1981): 159-176. 158 SHOFAR Winter 1999 Vol. 17, No.2 chapters." Those chapters, and the issues ofmodernism and post-modernism, come in for major attention in several essays, especially Brian McHale's on "Henry Roth in Nighttown, or, Containing Ulysses" (a nice pun that McHale explicates) and an essay on modernism on the lower East Side by Karen R. Lawrence. In a brilliant, synoptic, 6O-plus page concluding essay by Werner Sollors called "'A World Somewhere, Somewhere Else': Language, Nostalgic Mournfulness, and Urban Immigrant Family Romance in Call It Sleep," Sollors continues his original explorations of the links between modernism and ethnicity, as well as providing the freshest and fullest reading ofthe novel to date. Leslie Fiedler, fIrst among the stellar critics/scholars in the volume, contributes a moving essay on "The Many Myths ofHenry Roth," that in short compass embraces the psychological and theological elements of the book, concluding with a poem he wrote upon fIrst reading the novel, in which the Yin and Yang, the contradictory elements of the work, are united. The Italian scholar Mario Materassi, who for many years during Roth's obscurity did heroic service seeking out and encouraging him and who was to a large extent a chief stimulator of Roth's revived creativity in his old age, contributes an important essay on Roth's use of what he calls a "Shifting Urbanscape: Roth's 'Private' New York," which helps make sense of the shifting perspectives in the book. Ruth Wisse, fIrst Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, contributes a discerning essay called "The Classic ofDisinheritance," in which the loss ofa sustaining community produces in David Schearl a type ofexistential hero. All in all, the essays in the collection build on what has been said and discovered about Roth and his great novel, but in original and exciting ways push into new territory. It is to be read carefully and treasured. Jules Chametzky Department of English University of Massachusetts The Sinai: A Physical Geography, by Ned H. Greenwood. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997. 148 pp. $35.00 (c); $16.95 (p). This book is a must for anyone interested in the Sinai, particularly its impressive physical characteristics. Since the restoration ofthe peninsula to Egyptian control early in the 1980s, precious few monographs on this fascinating region have been published. Greenwood's account is thorough and up-to-date. This is a short book that may be readily consumed in an afternoon. It is well written and well paced. The book has seven chapters: Sinai, Search for a Geographic Entity; Plate Tectonics and the Geology ofSinai; Geomorphology and Drainage; Weather and ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 157-158
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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