Promised Lands: New Jew­ish Amer­i­can Fic­tion on Long­ing and Belonging

Derek Rubin, ed.
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
In this rich and time­ly anthol­o­gy, Derek Rubin — the edi­tor of the NJBA-win­ning col­lec­tion Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jew­ish Amer­i­can Writer (2005)— brings togeth­er almost two dozen sto­ries by a range of con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Amer­i­can authors, some already dis­tin­guished (Steve Stern, Rebec­ca Gold­stein, Dara Horn, Thane Rosen­baum, Jonathan Rosen among them) and some on the thresh­old of recog­ni­tion (Adam Wil­son, Joey Rubin, Yael Gold­stein among them). Rubin invit­ed his con­trib­u­tors to reflect on the core Jew­ish theme of long­ing: the ache of felt or imag­ined dis­place­ment and alien­ation, and the (equal­ly Jew­ish) coun­ter­point of yearn­ing for a home­land,” fig­ured in these sto­ries by a range of phys­i­cal, spir­i­tu­al, and emo­tion­al guis­es. In Rubin’s superb intro­duc­tion, which mas­ter­ful­ly draws out the the­mat­ic links among the sto­ries, the refrain unful­filled long­ing” forms a pal­pa­ble thread; it becomes the mul­ti­va­lent idea” that, in the editor’s view, informs the motif of promised lands” itself. Read togeth­er, these sto­ries dis­play how con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish authors remain in strik­ing dia­logue with their lit­er­ary fore­bears, above all Abra­ham Cahan’s David Levin­sky, that most poignant of Jew­ish heartachers. 

The sto­ries gath­ered in Promised Lands are all well worth read­ing, but I would sin­gle out a few (by both mas­ters and emerg­ing stars) for their inven­tive­ness and pow­er: Dara Horn’s Shtetl World” for its wicked com­e­dy of the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of Yid­dishkeit; Jonathan Rosen’s The True World” for its rich over­tones of Jew­ish lit­er­ary his­to­ry (the author chan­nels Mala­mud on the way to inter­view Bel­low in the after­life); Adam Wilson’s The Porchies” for its por­trait of alien­at­ed Jew­ish youth; Joey Rubin’s Toward Lithua­nia,” which locates Jew­ish iden­ti­ty” in the flu­id ter­ri­to­ry of con­stant migra­tion, from one zone of fraught Jew­ish mem­o­ry to anoth­er. 

In short, Promised Lands should find a wide audi­ence. For those read­ers who fol­low the con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Amer­i­can lit­er­ary scene, Derek Rubin pro­vides a rich gath­er­ing of sto­ries that move, engage, and provoke.

Don­ald Weber writes about Jew­ish Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture and pop­u­lar cul­ture. He divides his time between Brook­lyn and Mohe­gan Lake, NY.

Discussion Questions