The Last Jew

Yoram Kaniuk; Bar­bara Har­shav, trans.
  • Review
By – July 9, 2012
Per­haps the great­est writer to fable him­self out of Israel and onto the inter­na­tion­al scene since the trag­ic ear­ly death of the genius Yaakov Shab­tai, Yoram Kaniuk (born 1930) shares with his fel­low Tel Avi­van a seem­ing­ly man­ic obses­sion with turn­ing small lives into rep­re­sen­ta­tive ones, and tran­scend­ing the Israeli polit­i­cal land­scape to focus instead on themes uni­ver­sal­ly Jew­ish. Emerg­ing from the con­cen­tra­tion camps in 1945, one Ebenez­er Schneer­son is unable to remem­ber any­thing about him­self per­son­al­ly, but finds he is able to recite at will, say, the entire canon of Yid­dish poet­ry. As fel­low sur­vivor Samuel Lip­ker dis­cov­ers, Ebenez­er has become a walk­ing and talk­ing repos­i­to­ry of lost Yid­dishkeit and Jew­ish Kul­tur; he has become, in essence if not his­tor­i­cal fact, the Last Jew, and as such is exploit­ed by Lip­ker in a sideshow act tour­ing through­out recov­er­ing Europe. Yoram Kaniuk is him­self the Last Jew of Israeli let­ters — in that his Euro­pean pedi­gree is nev­er far from the sur­face of his prose, and his themes have nev­er fash­ion­ably pol­i­ticked against fan­ta­sy. The Last Jew is his mas­ter­piece, a book for the ages.

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. His books include the nov­els Mov­ing KingsBook of Num­bersWitzA Heav­en of Oth­ers, and Caden­za for the Schnei­der­mann Vio­lin Con­cer­to; the short-fic­tion col­lec­tion Four New Mes­sages, and the non­fic­tion col­lec­tion Atten­tion: Dis­patch­es from a Land of Dis­trac­tion. Cohen was award­ed Israel’s 2013 Matanel Prize for Jew­ish Writ­ers, and in 2017 was named one of Granta’s Best Young Amer­i­can Nov­el­ists. He lives in New York City.

Discussion Questions