The Fall of a Spar­row: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner

Dina Porat
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
A metic­u­lous schol­ar, Porat focus­es on the rel­e­vance of Kovner’s life and writ­ings to con­tem­po­rary Israel and to Jews world­wide. Kovn­er, born in Sev­astopol in 1918, escaped from the Vil­na Ghet­to to lead guer­ril­la strikes against the Nazis. Lat­er in life, he became one of Israel’s great­est mod­ern poets.

 Porat’s choice of title is apt, for she makes the case that Kovn­er, like Ham­let, was a sym­bol­ic fig­ure of epic pro­por­tions who expe­ri­enced great sor­row, sought revenge, vac­il­lat­ed between action and inac­tion, and grap­pled with guilt and sac­ri­fice. How­ev­er, unlike Ham­let, Kovn­er left his mark on his­to­ry through many actions. Most famous­ly, Kovner’s Decem­ber 31, 1941 pub­lic announce­ment before del­e­gates from Jew­ish youth move­ments was the first time that the mass killing of Jews was acknowl­edged as the cen­ter­piece of Hitler’s plan to exter­mi­nate Europe’s Jews. Kovner’s dec­la­ra­tion also marked the first Jew­ish call to armed resis­tance. 

Porat’s writ­ing is aca­d­e­m­ic rather than lyri­cal, more con­cerned with being com­plete than with mov­ing the nar­ra­tive. As a result, read­ers remain out­side the dra­ma rather than being caught up in its excite­ment. The writ­ing ismost effec­tive when Porat inter­weaves Kovner’s own words into her sto­ry. The Fall of the Spar­row is the 2009 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Win­ner in Biog­ra­phy, Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, and Mem­oir. Bib­li­og­ra­phy of Kovner’s writ­ings, index, list of unpub­lished sources, notes.
Lau­rie Roza­kis, Ph.D., is a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor, lec­tur­er, pro­fes­sion­al writer, and edi­tor. She has pub­lished more than 100 books, includ­ing The Portable Jew­ish Moth­er (Adams). Dr. Roza­kis is a full pro­fes­sor of English/​Humanities at Farm­ing­dale State Col­lege. She wel­comes vis­i­tors to her blog http://​roza​k​ile​.blogspot​.com/.

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