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.