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

Stanford University Press  2009

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 Bibliography of Kovner’s writings, index, list of unpublished sources, notes.

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