Ear­li­er this week, Michael Lav­i­gne wrote about writ­ing the Rad­i­cal Oth­er” and won­dered if a writer can take the ego out of writ­ing.He has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

A cou­ple of years ago I decid­ed to lead a group of adult learn­ers in a class on Jew­ish fic­tion. The rea­son was that I want­ed to share a few books I loved, and I also want­ed an excuse to read some I’d nev­er got around to. It was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence, both as a teacher and as a reader. 

Re-read­ing some favorites – like Bruno Schulz, Pri­mo Levi and Meir Shalev – only served to deep­en my attach­ment to them. But the writ­ers I’d want­ed to get to know – like Clarice Lispec­tor and Joseph Roth – were a rev­e­la­tion. Two or three real­ly stand out in that cat­e­go­ry. Lispec­tor for cer­tain – noth­ing in lit­er­a­ture is quite like her, and I urge you to read through twice before you judge. But it was Roman Gary who won my heart with his incom­pa­ra­ble char­ac­ter Momo – the lit­tle Arab kid adopt­ed by the Jew­ish Rosa – in a work that is sim­ply per­fec­tion, there is no oth­er word for it. As for sheer great­ness, it has to be Yaakov Shab­tai, whose Past Con­tin­u­ous is not only a vir­tu­osic mas­ter­piece, but deeply mov­ing; also tru­ly great is S.Y. Agnons Only Yes­ter­day, which is remark­able for its breadth, its unflinch­ing eye, and the beau­ty of its prose even in trans­la­tion. Each one of the works I taught has a spe­cial place in my heart, and I believe you will also find them grat­i­fy­ing to read or re-read. Bruno Schultz is fun­da­men­tal – in a class by him­self. Dovid Bergel­sons short sto­ries, only recent­ly trans­lat­ed from the Yid­dish, and are a mad joy. David Gross­man needs no intro­duc­tion, except I strong­ly rec­om­mend read­ing Schultz first. 

One note. Late in the course, I includ­ed Paul Celan, the poet, whose work is soul-wrench­ing and beyond beau­ti­ful. Obvi­ous­ly he is not writ­ing fic­tion, but I can think of noth­ing that reflects the trans­for­ma­tive nature of the Jew­ish lit­er­ary expe­ri­ence bet­ter. I rec­om­mend the German/​English side-by-side edi­tion by Michael Hamburger. 

And if you ever want to chat about any of these, I’d be delighted.

Dovid Bergel­son, The Shad­ows of Berlin

Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles

David Gross­man, See Under: Love

Aharon Appelfeld, Baden­heim 1939

Meir Shalev, The Pigeon and the Boy

Clarice Lispec­tor, Hour of the Star

Roman Gary, The Life Before You (Madame Rosa)

Arnon Grun­berg, Phan­tom Pain

Nathan Eng­lan­der, The Min­istry of Spe­cial Cases

Der Nis­ter, The Fam­i­ly Mash­ber*

Yaakov Shab­tai, Past Con­tin­u­ous

Moa­cyr Scliar, The Cen­taur in the Gar­den

Pri­mo Levi, The Peri­od­ic Table

Ita­lo Sve­vo, Zeno’s Con­science

S.Y Agnon, Only Yes­ter­day

Joseph Roth, The Radet­zky March

Sayed Kashua, Danc­ing Arabs *

Orly Cas­tel-Bloom, Human Parts

Franz Kaf­ka, The Com­plete Stories

Paul Celan, Poems of Paul Celan

*Ses­sions on these two works were led by Igael Gurin-Malous. 

Michael Lav­i­gne’s first nov­el, Not Me, was the recip­i­ent of the Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award. His newest nov­el, The Want­i­ng, will be pub­lished by Schock­en Books on Feb­ru­ary 26th. Visit Michael on Face­book and vis­it his offi­cial web­site here.

Michael Lav­i­gne stud­ied at Millersville State Col­lege and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, where he did grad­u­ate work on the Com­mit­tee on Social Thought. His first nov­el, Not Me, received the Sami Rohr Choice Award. Lav­i­gne is a founder of the Tauber Jew­ish Stud­ies Pro­gram at Con­gre­ga­tion Emanu-El in San Fran­cis­co, and spent three years work­ing in the Sovi­et Union.