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November 25, 1988 - Image 98

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-25

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Anne Roiphe Assesses
The Jewish Condition


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any, perhaps most,
readers know Anne
Roiphe as a novelist.
For the past 20 years Roiphe,
a native New Yorker, has
been spinning contemporary
American stories that explore
themes common to many of us
living in the waning decades
of this century. In her works
like Up the Sandbox, Torch
Song, and her lastest novel,
Loving Kindness, Roiphe has
examined issues of genera-
tional conflict, the search for
definition and identity and
the relationship between
reason and faith.
Roiphe's artistic deftness in
exploring these themes has
read so true that many
readers assume that she is
her characters; that their
story is actually hers. "That's
the writer's task;' she has ex-
plained. "'lb fool; to build an
illusion that becomes a mir-
ror of the truth."
But Roiphe's strength isn't
limited to the world of fiction.
In the past few years she's us-
ed her skills — of observation,
of psychological insight, of
lyrical language — not only to
build stories but to uncover
them. Just as she created
characters, so, too, she decid-
ed to reveal and disclose her
She started writing about
herself — directly — and in
the process, she has written
about many of us. Her writing
— which has appeared in
publications as varied as Tik-
kun and Redbook
developed a moral urgency
and ethical perspective not
always seen in the world of
contemporary letters and
It all began simply enough
several years ago. Roiphe
decided to write a story for
the New York times about
why she — an assimilated
Jew — had a Christmas tree.
The response to that story
was overwhelming.
"The New York times had to
have six more secretaries to
answer the phones," she
recalls. "I even got death
The strong feelings of the
Times piece evoked weren't
limited to the public. Roiphe,
too, felt compelled by the
significance of what she had
written. That short story
began her path to self-
discovery; a path that she has
shared with readers, most
notably in her brilliantly
realized Generation Without

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Anne Roiphe: Prose Moralist

Memory, which was publish-
ed seven years ago.
"Since then I've been
writing books about the
Jewish part of my soul,"
Roiphe says.
Her latest book, A Season
for Healing: Reflections on the
Holocaust, was published last
month. Her observations,
which grew out of four years
of work on the subject, were
the theme for her lecture last
week in Ann Arbor. Her ap-
pearance was sponsored by
the Hill Street Forum/Great
Writers Series.
"We are marked by the nar-
rowness of our escape,"
Roiphe says. "Something oc-
curred, like the Flood, which
altered our inner human
landscape forever."
Although the Holocaust oc-
curred 40 years ago, it is still
very much with us today. It
reverberates and resonates in
unexpected ways. Roiphe is
not a historian, which is both
a liability and asset. Her ap-
proach is more personal, more
impressionistic and more
"I write from inside," she
Roiphe had two major
themes around which every-
thing else revolved: the
singularity of the Holocaust
as a Jewish cataclysm; and,
ambiguously, the necessity to
utilize this very particular
event and universalize it.
"The Holocaust belongs to
the Jews," Roiphe said and
went on to explain why, for
example, the Catholic
Church, has found that idea
"The Catholic Church does
not like others to suffer more
than Christ," Roiphe says. "In
this century, the Jews were
becomes problematic for the
Church. "The Church needs
to appropriate the Holocaust
in some way."

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