A Guest for the Night

S. Y. Agnon; Misha Lou­vish, trans.
  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

On the eve of the Day of Atone­ment, an unnamed nar­ra­tor goes down from the land of Israel to his home­town in East­ern Europe after the Great War and finds dev­as­ta­tion and destruc­tion; yet there are glim­mers of hope. Agnon gives a detailed account of every­day life; but through metaphor, para­bles, and quotes from the Torah and oth­er holy writ­ings, he also gives us insight into the human con­di­tion. On anoth­er lev­el, the narrator’s exile rep­re­sents the Dias­po­ra of the Jew­ish peo­ple. Who is this Guest who observes, records, encour­ages, but may not have much effect on their lives? Per­haps he is the prophet Eli­jah, come to look at his peo­ple and see if it is time to gath­er them up to Israel. 

Agnon’s writ­ing is clear, insight­ful, and at times dream­like or sur­re­al. The char­ac­ters are beau­ti­ful­ly drawn. There are mem­o­rable lines on every page. A Guest for the Night is a must-read clas­sic. Glossary.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

Discussion Questions