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November 14, 2003 - Image 81

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-14

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Law fails to satisfy Ozick's rabbi, who

Abraham's despair and Isaac's wound. As

begins to read Romantic poetry and to

the novel fills in these gaps in the original

seek out the "free spirits" of the natural

narrative, it augments our memory of the

world, abandoning the sacred texts, his

collective past.

wife and daughters. He knows that faith-

Two other recent novels carry the

fulness to the Law obliges him to turn

midrashic impulse toward more hopeful

away from natural beauty and the storied

visions of possibility. Allegra Goodman's

wealth of western culture. He learns that

Paradise Park (2001) embeds within a long,

"freedom" means the loss of family love,

picaresque tale of a girl's search for a spiri-

spiritual comfort, and the multiple bound-

tual "home" one dazzling, epiphanic

aries that regulate the lives of individuals

moment in which - as in the book of Job -

within this group. His profound ambiva-

the power and beauty of God's work

lence shows us ourselves, always working

become manifest. From deep within this

on the limits of our own freedoms. In such

dusty, littered fictional world a great whale,

circumstances the undertow of our sources

Leviathan, suddenly surfaces, "as if the

becomes irresistible. If only to reassure us

whole ocean was sliding open": "the sky

that conflict has always been with us. Isaac

swung back in liquid gold, the air mixed

walks in the field, and Ozick's rabbi leaps

with the water....all of a sudden I'd seen it -

the fence of the Law to fall in love with the

all the power under the world, all this pres-

heartless spirit of a tree. Thus the

ence and wisdom that wasn't human."

midrashic impulse "instructs" collective

There is no divine voice here, to ask this

memory, as Susan Sontag pointed out,

protagonist where she was when Leviathan

reminding us of who we have been.

was created. But the vision persists

While evil and turmoil wreak havoc

plation that may, just may, sustain us,

and bring us peace. Whom do I look

Todd Gitlin's The Sacrifice (1999) seems

through her journey, reassuring her (and

to rise from midrashic concern with famil-

us?) that even exile may include living

ial, rather than cultural, malaise. As Ozick's

human life: "Life is glass. What shatters,

visions from the collective past.
Aryeh Lev Stollman's The illuminated
Soul (1997) imagines also what it means to
be exiled from a past in which such visions
— and the accompanying voice of their
Creator — were first experienced. But the
novel brilliantly connects the experience of
contemporary exile with its Biblical proto-
type, suggesting that memory itself may
become home. Stollman's protagonist will
study all his life the brain and its power to
remember. As he prepares for public read-
ing the passage that describes the silver
trumpets used for "the calling of assem-
blies and for the journeying of the camps
[of the Israelites] in the wilderness," a
beautiful woman enters his house: she
stands in "two broad bands" of sunlight

Rachel jacobsohn is author of The Reading

stays shattered...." Told from both the

that seem to him like the "silvery trumpets" he

Group Handbook and writes/publishes the

father's and the son's point of view, the fic-

has been studying. A European refugee,

newsjournal Reverberations for the Association of

tion attempts to understand both

continued on page 23

"Pagan Rabbi" shows us — through the lens

of Isaac's unexplained walking in the field -

- our susceptibility to the seductions of the

natural and cultural world, Gitlin's novel

turns the lens. of Abraham's, Isaac's and

Esau's biblical experience toward the knot

of thwarted paternal love. Gitlin's patriarch

gets two tries: one, obedient to convention,

and another that follows impulse. Both cul-

minate in the sacrifice of a child to a father's

will. Scarred by his own father's failures of

love, Gitlin's patriarch attributes his pater-

nal failures to both the "endless begats of

neurosis," and the inescapable irony of

to among those blessed greatly with

the power to create words? Cynthia

Ozick, Grace Paley, David Grossman,

Natalia Ginzburg, Nathan Englander, ,

Shulamith Hareven, I.B. Singer, and

Rebecca Goldstein. These are the -

writers who create peace — something

.7 -• -

possible in words, if not in the world.

Book Group Readers and Leaders.



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