by Ilan Stavans / University of Nebraska Press, 2012 / Paperback 392 pp. $24.95
This major collection of Ilan Stavans’ shorter writings confirms his place as a premier interpreter of the Jewish experience in the Americas. Primarily concerned with the narrative arts (literature and film), his range is wide and his penetration is deep. As he battles through the distinctions between the intellectual and the academic, the creative spirit and the critical one, Stavans is at once erudite, relaxed, and friendly. Often seriously engaged with high-brow achievement, he is not condescending to writers of lower elevation – such as Leo Rosten.
Stavans employs his considerable intelligence and knowledge in a particularly therapeutic way. For one thing, he reminds us not to confuse Spanish speaking Jews with Sephardim. Born into an Ashkenazi Mexican family, he represents a stratum of Latino culture underrepresented on most North American maps of Jewish life and achievement. Yet Stavans has made New York and Boston his homes for half of his life. Intellectually and emotionally, he is at home with the giants (and the overlooked) of modern western culture in both its Spanish and English streams. And let’s not forget about Yiddish!
In this dazzling sampler of his work, we encounter short essays (book reviews, brief critical meditations, tributes) and longer sojourns into multi-layered topics: “Thinking Aloud: The Education of Maurice Samuel,” “Rereading Lionel Trilling,” “Sephardic Literature: Unity and Dispersion,” and – of course – the magnificent title essay “Singer’s Typewriter and Mine.” In many of these pieces, Stavans knits the circumstances of his own life into the exploration of his ostensible subject. Somehow, he manages to make this kind of risk-taking productive rather than intrusive. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears ALONG WITH AN INTERVIEW on the Jewish Book Council web site and in the Spring 2013 issue of Jewish Book World, click here: Singer’s Typewriter and Mine: Reflections on Jewish Culture
This review and interview was reprinted in the April 2013 issues of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County, FL), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).