Tag Archives: literary history

“In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song,” by Jerome Charyn

Review by Philip K. Jason

Bellevue Literary Press. 272 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A prolific novelist and cultural critic, Charyn has brought together a group of autobiographical and critical essays energized by a distinctive, memorable style at once accessible and brimming with erudition. As the all-American child of parents defined by the immigrant experience, Charyn includes several essays having to do with his Bronx childhood. His parents’ silences were the silences of displacement, and Charyn’s eventually countervailing life in language becomes his ironic emergence from that silence into well-scored, elevating song.

Jerome Charyn – photo by Jorg Meyer

Charyn writes with passionate precision about writers, films and filmmakers, about New York’s marginalized classes, and all manner of cultural icons. He gets under the veneer of icons like Negro League baseball titan Josh Gibson. He celebrates the works of such Jewish writers as Isaac Babel, Henry Roth, the underpraised Samuel Ornitz, and the game-changing Saul Bellow, putting their radically different oeuvres in context. (His essay on Babel, a gem over fifty pages long, dazzles.)



To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here:  In the Shadow of King Saul

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“Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel” by Leah Garrett

Northwestern University Press. 288 Pages. $34.95.

From the moment Leah Garrett’s Young Lions announces its thesis in the subtitle, it seems indisputable that scholars should have examined this issue decades earlier: the impact of Jewish authors and their works on the American war novel. Garrett’s arguments involve innovative rereadings of several familiar texts and ample explorations of several lesser-known titles that deserve the attention she gives them. GARRETT

After an elaborate introduction, Garrett provides an overview of the Jewish soldier over time. It is not a pretty picture, with the smothering stereotypes of weakness prevailing amid outright expressions of antisemitism. Early World War II novels hint at a transition, but a handful of 1948 bestsellers were the first to truly introduce a new kind of American Jewish soldier and, as a consequence, a new kind of Jew: a hardened masculine figure equal to the demands of war, an image that anticipated Israel’s War of Independence and echoed the decades of heroic Zionist activity that preceded it.



Focusing on the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II, Garrett examines Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Ira Wolfert’s An Act of Love. Garrett’s artful comparison-and-contrast analysis is strikingly revealing, particularly in demonstrating how the military melting pot did not erase antisemitism, though it did allow for the possibility of friendships that, within limits, “could overcome class and ethnic hatreds” within the Pacific War. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: Young Lions by Leah Garrett | Jewish Book Council

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Norman Mailer: A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon. Simon & Schuster. Hardcover 960 pages. $40.00.

Lennon’s authorized biography is free from the sycophancy that often attends such projects. Mailer himself readily admitted to and sometimes celebrated his warts. His biographer’s unrestricted access to resources not previously drawn upon has resulted in towering, balanced portrait of the man, his achievements, and his shortcomings.  Mailer told Lennon to “put everything in.” This could be dangerous advice, but it was the same advice that Mailer usually gave himself in his drive to craft comprehensive responses to complex questions.  LennonOnMailerCover

Lennon captures Mailer’s enormous drive to master his craft, to experiment with form and genre, to build a reputation, and to contend with the large issues of his country and culture for six decades. This biography is not only indispensable for students of Mailer, but also for anyone interested in taking the pulse of the United States through those decades. More and more, Mailer put himself on the stages of literary and political history, shaping both through his participation and shaping our collective memory through his influential, if sometimes abrasive, representations.

The book is fascinating throughout. All readers will benefit from Lennon’s treatment of Mailer’s writing process, his compulsive philandering, his often crass self-promotion, his unexpected discipline, his capacity for violence, his attraction to and sympathy for criminals, his relationships with his many children and his peers, and his risk-taking in all areas of life and art. . . .

To see the entire review, as posted on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: Norman Mailer: A Double Life by J. Michael Lennon | Jewish Book Council Reviews

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