Ances­tral Tales: Read­ing the Bucza­cz Sto­ries of S.Y. Agnon

Alan Mintz
  • From the Publisher
January 2, 2018

Writ­ten in pieces over the last fif­teen years of his life and pub­lished posthu­mous­ly, S. Y. Agnon’s A City in Its Full­ness is an ambi­tious, his­tor­i­cal­ly rich sequence of sto­ries memo­ri­al­iz­ing Bucza­cz, the city of his birth. This town in present-day Ukraine was once home to a vibrant Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion that was destroyed twice over―in the First World War and again in the Holo­caust. Agnon’s epic sto­ry cycle, how­ev­er, focus­es not on the par­tic­u­lars of destruc­tion, but instead reimag­ines the dai­ly lives of Bucza­cz’s Jew­ish cit­i­zens, vivid­ly pre­serv­ing the van­ished world of ear­ly mod­ern Jewry.

Ances­tral Tales shows how this col­lec­tion marks a crit­i­cal junc­ture with­in the Agnon canon. Through close read­ings of the sto­ries against a shift­ing his­tor­i­cal back­drop, Alan Mintz presents a mul­ti­lay­ered his­to­ry of the town, along with insight into Agnon’s fic­tion­al trans­for­ma­tions. Mintz relates these nar­ra­tive strate­gies to cat­a­stro­phe lit­er­a­ture from ear­li­er peri­ods of Jew­ish his­to­ry, show­ing how Agnon’s Bucza­cz is a lit­er­ary achieve­ment at once inno­v­a­tive in its form of remem­brance and deeply root­ed in Jew­ish tradition.

Discussion Questions