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
)— 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.