A Book That Was Lost

S.Y Agnon; Alan Mintz and Anne Golomb Hoff­man, eds.
  • Review
By – January 6, 2012

The work of S.Y. Agnon, the emi­nent and pro­lif­ic Hebrew writer and Nobel Lau­re­ate (1888 – 1970) has been rel­a­tive­ly inac­ces­si­ble to Eng­lish-speak­ing audi­ences, though required read­ing in Israeli class­rooms. Now, edi­tors Anne Golomb Hoff­man and Alan Mintz have com­piled a mas­ter­ful, user­friend­ly vol­ume. They have gath­ered thir­ty-five sto­ries, some pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished, and grouped them into sev­en sec­tions, along a broad geo­graph­ic-bio­graph­i­cal axis that fol­lows Agnon’s migra­tions from the iso­la­tion of his native Gali­cia to Pales­tine, Berlin, Ham­burg, and the final return with his fam­i­ly to Jerusalem. Short intro­duc­tions before each sec­tion explain the indi­vid­ual sto­ries’ posi­tions in Agnon’s universe. 

The sto­ries — deeply imag­ined, para­dox­i­cal, iron­ic — cov­er an amaz­ing styl­is­tic range— post-mod­ernism, rab­binic midrashim, and appar­ent­ly straight­for­ward shtetl tales whose inno­cence con­ceals mul­ti-lay­ered complexity. 

Born Shmuel Yosef Cza­czkes, Agnon cre­at­ed his pseu­do­nym from the title of his 1908 sto­ry, Agunot, which itself is derived from the Hebrew agu­nah—an aban­doned wife, at once con­nect­ed to and sep­a­rat­ed from the com­mu­ni­ty, who has lost all rights and must remain undi­vorced by the hus­band who will not free her. The young writer thus artic­u­lat­ed the dis­con­nec­tion and lack of whole­ness that would become the cen­tral themes of his life and his art. 

This gor­geous col­lec­tion belongs in your per­son­al library, to be read, re-read, lent, shared and dis­cussed again and again.
Judith Felsen­feld book of short fic­tion, Blaustein’s Kiss, was pub­lished in April, 2014. Her sto­ries have appeared in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary reviews, includ­ing The Chica­go Review, The South­west Review, Blue Mesa, and broad­cast nation­wide on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.

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