As a Palm Tree in the Desert

Zvi Anko­ri; Eve­lyn Abel, trans.
  • Review
By – October 26, 2011

This is a remark­able his­tor­i­cal nov­el by the Pol­ish-born Israeli his­to­ri­an Zvi Anko­ri. It is his fic­tion­al­ized mem­oir enhanced by exten­sive research in archives and libraries on three con­ti­nents. Born Hes­iek Wró­bel in 1920, Anko­ri taught Jew­ish his­to­ry at Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty, Colum­bia, the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty. The book pro­vides a broad and detailed per­spec­tive on Jew­ish life in pre-1939 Poland as well as in Manda­to­ry Pales­tine and the first decades of the State of Israel. Anko­ri was a close neigh­bor and friend of the great Hebrew author Shmuel Agnon, who is won­der­ful­ly por­trayed in this book. 

This is the sec­ond auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal his­tor­i­cal nov­el by Anko­ri; his first was Chest­nuts of Yes­ter­year (Gefen, 2003). Authored in Hebrew, the present nov­el has been trans­lat­ed into often lyri­cal Eng­lish. The fic­tion­al form lib­er­ates the author to por­tray con­ver­sa­tions, emo­tions, and thoughts that could not be sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly doc­u­ment­ed in a for­mal his­tor­i­cal mono­graph. A major theme is a life­long romance with books that opened up a broad­er world to a child born and raised in a provin­cial city whose large Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Hasidim, Tal­mud­ists, mer­chants, social­ists, crafts­men, and sec­u­lar­ists van­ished after 1939. Photographs.

Robert Moses Shapiro teach­es mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, and Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture at Brook­lyn Col­lege of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His most recent book is The War­saw Ghet­to Oyneg Shabes-Ringel­blum Archive: Cat­a­log and Guide (Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Library and the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Insti­tute in War­saw, 2009). He is cur­rent­ly engaged in trans­lat­ing Pol­ish and Yid­dish diaries from the Łódź ghet­to and the Yid­dish Son­derkom­man­do doc­u­ments found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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