S. Y. Agnon
July 17th is the birthday of S. Y. Agnon, in honor of which we have assembled some publications of his work. But let's begin with an excerpt from Barbara Andrew's article on Agnon from the Jewish Book World archives:
His writings are reminiscent of a literary Chagall. They portray a life in a world that no longer exists but yet exists in a dream-like state, neither real nor imaginary, but somewhere in between.
Agnon’s name is an illusion as well, being born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in 1888 in the Eastern Galician town of Buczacz, which at the time was part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. He was educated in the world of Hasidic traditions by his father and private tutors, learning the Talmud and its Aggadic stories that were to have a strong influence in his writings. Young Shmuel was also influenced by his mother’s family, which was steeped in the learnings of the Mitnagdim, as well as German stories and fables his mother taught him. Later, as a young man living in Germany, he would read widely in German and French literature. While he would disavow that these later readings had influence upon his work, it is often said that his writings bear some resemblance to modern German literature. Agnon himself would say that his writings were most influenced by Sacred Scriptures, Torah, as well as the Mishnah and Talmud.
He renamed himself Agnon around 1908 as his writing became more prolific, and took his surname from the Hebrew word agunah. Agunah means a woman who is not free to marry because her husband has refused her a divorce by either leaving or abandoning her. Much has been made of why Agnon chose this particular name for himself and one wonders if it is not an allusion to the desertion of Israel by God. The metaphor as portrayed in the Torah pertains to when Israel has strayed and God laments Her waywardness. In His lament, God turns His face from Israel, leaving her abandoned and belonging to no one
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