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 is the author of Witz, The Heav­en of Oth­ers, The Quo­rum, Caden­za for the Schnei­der­mann Vio­lin Con­cer­to, among oth­er titles.

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