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Book Reviews 143 A House of Words: Jewish Writing, Identity and Memory, by Nonnan Ravvin. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997. 191 pp. $15.95. A House of Words reads selected texts from North American Jewish writing, both American and Canadian, as "transcultural drama" arising from experiences of various kinds of "liminal position" (p. 158) between different communities, cultures, and traditions. Because Ravvin is interested in what links American and Canadian Jewish literatures as well as in what distinguishes them, his sections are organized thematically around the various coping strategies writers may develop for addressing the trauma of history and in particular the Holocaust. This is a well researched study written in an accessible style and animated by a principled concern with the ethical responsibilities ofwriters and readers. Ravvin is especially adept at encapsulating complexity in a series of evocative metaphors, several of which title his book's different sections. "Building a House of Words" analyzes poetry by Eli Mandel and novels by Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler, to argue that these Jewish-Canadian writers deal indirectly with the legacy of the Holocaust, examining how it is lived by those born in a different era and another place. "Strange Presences" addresses the conjuring ofghosts, dead writers who reappear from the past, in the fiction ofthe American Philip Roth and the lesser-known Canadian Chava Rosenfarb. Ravvin discusses the presence of Bruno Schulz in Roth's The Prague Orgy, of Anne Frank in Roth's The Ghost Writer, and of Simcha Bunim Shayevitsh in Chava Rosenfarb's The Tree ofLife, first published in Yiddish and later translated into English by the author herself. These readings focus some of the ethical issues raised by depictions of the Holocaust, mourning the specificity that can be lost when Jewish suffering and survival are too glibly universalized into a shared human condition. "On Refusing to End" argues the virtues ofa Jewish talmudic legacy of debate that counters apocalyptic narratives by presenting unresolved novelistic worlds. Ravvin finds this "stalling of apocalypse" in Nathanael West's The Day ofthe Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts and a more forthright rejection of it in Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet. In "Warring with Shadows: The Holocaust and the Academy," Ravvin moves from imaginative fiction to a case study of the debate that ensued from the discovery of the wartime pro-fascist journalism of the prominent deconstructionist theorist Paul de Man. Ravvin argues that "the relationship between fascism and the Western intellectual tradition is one that continues to be dealt with ambivalently, with discomfort, and to some extent irresponsibly" (p. 137). Unhappy with the tenns in which this debate has been cast, Ravvin rejects approaches adopting either hagiographic defense or cool objectivity, preferring instead Sartre's model of an animated indignation that retains a potential for empathy. Although Ravvin is clear about his own nauseated response to the journalism, he makes no final judgments, content with raising the thorny problem 144 SHOFAR Summer 1999 Vol. 17, No.4 of how we understand and value the literary oeuvre of an author whose life has been tainted by collaborationist activities. The study concludes by suggesting that the double legacy of 1492 remains unresolved. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Columbus's journey to America set in motion two historical narratives leading to genocide, "in which racial 'cleansing' is the key motif, and buried cities-whether Amazonian or Jewish-are the conclusive outcome" (p. 163). Ravvin suggests that so far neither nationalist, postcolonialist, nor multiculturalist readings have proven adequate to the task of comprehending this history and its imaginative legacy in literature. As the book's title suggests, this is a poetic and eclectic attempt at beginning to bridge the traditional critical categories that seem sometimes to prevent a fuller view ofthe contexts in which people make sense of their history through story. Diana Brydon School of Literatures and Performance Studies in English University of Guelph James Joyce's Ulysses and the Consciousness of Jewish Identity: Culture, Biography, and "the Jew" in Modernist Europe, by Neil R. Davison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 305 pp. $49.95. At the beginning ofhis book, Davison says that "grasping 'the Jew' in [Joyce...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 143-144
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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