Ear­li­er this week, Devo­rah Baum wrote about five books that counter the neg­a­tive” nar­ra­tive of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and the twelve most stereo­typ­i­cal Jews in lit­er­a­ture. Today, she explores sev­en books that cap­ture the breadth of Jew­ish expe­ri­ence. She is the author of the book Feel­ing Jew­ish (a Book for Just About Any­one), out this week from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Israel Zang­willChil­dren of the Ghet­to: A Study of a Pecu­liar People

A book of por­traits and scenes of late 19th-cen­tu­ry Jews in Lon­don on the cusp of moder­ni­ty and mod­ern­iza­tion. This book by the so-called Jew­ish Dick­ens” was a best-sell­er, in part because it man­aged to do two oppos­ing things at once, for dis­tinct audi­ences: it opened up a closed world, that of the poor immi­grant Jews, to non-Jews and assim­i­lat­ed mid­dle-class Jews, thus cre­at­ing path­ways for under­stand­ing between groups that appeared pecu­liar” to each oth­er, while at the same time open­ing up vis­tas to the world beyond the ghet­to for the Jews resid­ing with­in it.

Aharon AppelfeldFor Every Sin

Appelfeld is one of the great­est writ­ers of imag­i­na­tive fic­tion relat­ing to the Holo­caust. His prose has an uncan­ny feel to it, which con­veys some­thing of the state of loss, dis­place­ment and exile that char­ac­ter­izes its author’s own strange posi­tion vis a vis lan­guage: he had to learn to speak a smat­ter­ing of dif­fer­ent lan­guages in order to sur­vive the war alone as a child in Europe before he arrived in Israel and made of Hebrew some­thing at once entire­ly mod­ern, or even mod­ernist, and yet in such a way that his writ­ing still retains the depth and sig­nif­i­cance of its scrip­tur­al sources. While this is appar­ent in all his work, it’s in his nov­el For Every Sin that the tor­tu­ous rela­tion­ship of the sur­vivor to lan­guage ris­es to a theme.

Han­nah ArendtThe Jew­ish Writings

I might also have sug­gest­ed Wal­ter Benjamin’s Jew­ish writ­ings, but the polit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal engage­ments with which Arendt treat­ed her own and oth­ers’ expe­ri­ences of the most dra­mat­ic chap­ters of mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, and the way in which she both sparked and respond­ed to the con­tro­ver­sy that pub­lic Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­als invari­ably pro­voke when they reflect back on them­selves, reveals how crit­i­cal it is to inves­ti­gate the Jew­ish posi­tion in his­to­ry and soci­ety — not only for Jews, but as the recent revival of inter­est in Arendt’s writ­ings on total­i­tar­i­an­ism imply, crit­i­cal for all.

Eva Hoff­man – Lost in Translation

While there are many won­der­ful mem­oirs of Jew­ish emi­gra­tion from the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry up to the end of the twen­ti­eth, Hoffman’s sear­ing­ly hon­est, affect­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly per­spi­ca­cious account of her loss and redis­cov­ery of her­self in a new place and a new lan­guage has been enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced by all man­ner of readers&nmashfrom Jews, to peo­ple from oth­er immi­grant back­grounds, to peo­ple who, though not lit­er­al­ly dis­placed, feel them­selves to be pecu­liar­ly adrift, lost and uproot­ed in the rapid­ly chang­ing mod­ern world.

Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Dark­ness and/​or Sarah Glid­den — How to Under­stand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Oz’s beau­ti­ful mem­oir, which func­tions simul­ta­ne­ous­ly as the sto­ry of his own life and that of the young state he grew up in, seems to cap­ture every shade of Israeli expe­ri­ence — the love and the dark­ness, the dream and the night­mare. And because there real­ly is such pro­found love here, as well as dark­ness, those who are ordi­nar­i­ly inclined to see only one side of the pic­ture, whichev­er side that is, may find in this book a means of encoun­ter­ing the thorni­est of sub­jects some­what dif­fer­ent­ly. While Sarah Glidden’s graph­ic mem­oir of her time on a Birthright tour reveals how, behind the pro­pa­gan­dis­tic mes­sages to which she and her fel­low trav­el­ers were sub­ject, the indi­vid­u­als she meets in Israel are all far more com­plex and divid­ed than is gen­er­al­ly admit­ted by the spec­trum of polit­i­cal posi­tions and opin­ions with which they tend to get represented.

Nathan Eng­lan­der – What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

This short sto­ry col­lec­tion enters bold­ly into fea­tures and tem­pera­ments that broad­ly char­ac­ter­ize Jew­ish life and expe­ri­ences today. There is a great deal of Jew­ish self-cri­tique in these sto­ries, but also a sense of the blind alley­ways and lim­i­ta­tions that cir­cum­scribe just about any polit­i­cal, reli­gious or social posi­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in those cas­es where iden­ti­ties appear too sure of them­selves. This is not a writer who judges oth­ers from a sense of his own moral supe­ri­or­i­ty. Rather, his deep immer­sion in the post-war Jew­ish psy­che and predica­ments sees him attempt­ing, in these sto­ries, to find a way through the mod­ern maze — which, in the first case, requires us to com­pre­hend its mazi­ness as clear­ly as possible.

Edmond Jabès – The Book of Ques­tions, Vol 1.

Jabès’ han­dling of the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence brings new mean­ing to Jews as peo­ple of the book.” For Jabès, Jew­ish exis­tence and sur­vival is indis­tin­guish­able from the con­di­tion of tex­tu­al­i­ty. By invok­ing ques­tions that antic­i­pate nei­ther answers nor res­o­lu­tions, the bina­ries that per­me­ate our con­ven­tion­al habits of thought are all decon­struct­ed in this sub­lime work such that we can no longer draw the divid­ing line between Jew and non-Jew, between home and exile, between reli­gious and sec­u­lar, between belief and non-belief, between poet­ry and prose, between mind and body, between ancient and mod­ern, between life and death.

Devo­rah Baum is a lec­tur­er in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton, UK, and affil­i­ate of the Parkes Insti­tute for the Study of Jew­ish/Non-Jew­ish Rela­tions. She is the co-direc­tor of the doc­u­men­tary fea­ture film The New Man (2016) and the author of Feel­ing Jew­ish (a Book for Just About Any­one), pub­lished by Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press.