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Great Jewish Books
The Great Jewish Books Project
The National Yiddish Book Center has identified the "100 Greatest Works of Modern Jewish Literature" - written in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German, Spanish, English and other languages. Our plans are to integrate them into the mainstream of contemporary Jewish education.
The seven distinguished judges compiling the list are: Glenda Abramson of Oxford University; Robert Alter of the University of California at Berkeley; Hillel Halkin of Zichron Ya-akov, Israel; Gerson Shaked of Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times; Ilan Stavans of Amherst College; and Ruth Wisse of Harvard University. The project coordinator is Dr. Jeremy Dauber, a former Yiddish Book Center intern, a recent Rhodes Scholar, and assistant professor of Yiddish at Columbia University.
Deliberations began in the spring of 2000 and concluded in December 2001. The Center's president, Aaron Lansky, describes the results as "a fascinating, challenging, sometimes surprising list with books ranging from Mendele to Maus." Professor Ruth Wisse, author of The Modern Jewish Canon, says that the final list reflects "a mighty literature."
"The need for the program arose out of our conviction that American Jews have failed to embrace modern Jewish writing -- the tens of thousands of novels, stories, plays, poetry and memoirs that have chronicled the transformation of Jewish life, from the old world to the new," Lansky explains. "Our goal is to carry the Jewish story forward - from the Torah, Talmud and other traditional texts to the Jewish literature of our own time."
The list was developed over the past two years, with the judges working from an initial compilation of nearly 600 titles, plus recommendations by a group of distinguished nominators. Criteria for selection included intrinsic literary merit as well as Jewish authorship and explicit treatment of Jewish experience or sensibility. The judges evaluated each book for its theme and subject, the quality of writing, the depth of ideas, and its place in the Jewish canon.
Famous and widely read titles take their place beside lesser-known but equally important works. The books are listed alphabetically and are not ranked. The list includes novels, plays, poetry and memoirs in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages.
Criteria for the list are straightforward: a "Jewish book" is defined as one that is written by a Jewish author and that elucidates Jewish experience or sensibility. "Modern" has been defined to include works written from the Enlightenment of the late-eighteenth century to the present. These definitions enabled the judges to select books from a field of brilliant authors, ranging from the grandfather of Yiddish literature, Mendele Moykher Sforim, to contemporary masters such as Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, and Philip Roth.
A symposium on April 23, 2002 in New York City at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater next to Symphony Space (West 95th Street and Broadway) will be held.
The Selection Committee
(Affiliations for identification only)
Glenda Abramson, University of Oxford
Professor Robert Alter UC Berkeley
Hillel Halkin Israel
Ilan Stavans Amherst College
Gershon Shaked Israel
Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times
Professor Ruth Wisse Harvard University
Dr. Jeremy Dauber Columbia University
Below are the 100 books. If you click on a highlighted title, book cover or icon, you can read more about the book, purchase it, or in many cases, read excerpts.
Feathers (Notzot, 1979)
Twenty years have passed since the publication of Feathers (1979), a book that immediately established Be'er's reputation as one of the more
significant Hebrew prose writers of his generation. Though often included in surveys of the rich output of Hebrew prose diction since the middle 1970s,
Feathers differed from them radically both in setting and in characters. The plot is set in Jerusalem of the 1950s and 1960s, while the main characters
are either pious Jews or Jerusalem eccentrics. His second novel, The Time of Trimming (Et HaZamir, 1987), is also marked by its marginality to the
mainstream of Israeli fictional topics: though it does take place in the Israeli army, its characters are again religious Jews, not the usual soldiers one
is accustomed to in Israeli fiction. Five years later, Be'er published Both their Loves and Hates (Gam Ahavatam Gam Sinatam), a loving,
semi-biographical recreation of three of the leading modern Hebrew authors who were clearly formative in his intellectual development: Bialik, Brenner,
Dan Pagis (1930-1986) spent three of his adolescent years in a Nazi camp before arriving in Palestine in 1946. He became one of the most vibrant voices in modern Israeli poetry and is considered a major world poet of his generation. A master scholar of Hebrew literature, Pagis drew fully on classical texts and infused his poetry with a centuries-old mysticism. Yet he also brought an immediacy and colloquialism to Hebrew poetry. In these superbly translated poems, Dan Pagis's voice can be heard celebrating the human spirit.
Booklist wrote, "Paley is a member of that select breed of writers who become masters of the short story and resist the pressure to produce a novel. This volume gathers together more than 30 years' worth of stellar stories from Paley's best-known collections, The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and Later the Same Day (1985). This rich compilation presents us with the full spectrum of Paley's voices as well as her observations and interpretations of urban family life and a society that thrives on oppression. An outspoken pacifist, feminist, and self-described "cooperative anarchist," Paley can no more keep her political beliefs out of her fiction than a plant can keep from releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, but the story always comes first. Her cast of stubborn, opinionated, earthy, smart, sassy, and robust characters demand it. Paley writes just as effectively from a man's point of view as a woman's, discerning the ironies of everyone's predicaments, but she writes most poignantly about the frustrations of women stuck in the rigidity of gender roles. Paley's people either have moxie, or tremendous endurance. They're frank about lust, angry about money, and always ready for a good argument. These staccato tales of the city capture of the essence of the changes each decade has brought, while also dramatizing the continuity of human emotions. And Paley can just knock us flat with the force of her spirited language."
Isaac Leybush Peretz (1852-1915) is one of the most influential figures of modern Jewish culture. Born in Poland and dedicated to Yiddish culture, he recognized that Jews needed to adapt to their times while preserving their cultural heritage, and his captivating and beautiful writings explore the complexities inherent in the struggle between tradition and the desire for progress. An anthology of fiction, plays, poetry, letters, memoirs, and speeches by the father of modern Yiddish literature. Includes an introduction on his role in Yiddish literature and Jewish culture and the political culture of his times, essays by friends and associates, a chronology, a biographical sketch, b&w photos and illustrations, and a glossary.
Novel by Henry Roth, published in 1934. It centers on the character and perceptions of a young boy, the son of Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants in a ghetto in New York City. Roth uses stream-of-consciousness techniques to trace the boy's psychological development and to explore his perceptions of his family and of the larger world around him. The book powerfully evokes the terrors and anxieties the child experiences in his anguished relations with his father and realistically describes the squalid urban environment in which the family lives. The novel was rediscovered in the late 1950s and early '60s and came to be viewed both as an important proletarian novel of the 1930s and as a classic of Jewish-American literature
Belatedly recognized in this country, but long acclaimed in Europe for such brilliant, classic novels as The Radetzky March, Roth died in 1939 in the early days of WWII. The 17 stories in this collection display his diverse but sometimes erratic talent. In the early entries, Roth paints his plots and characters in short, broad strokes, a trait leading to abrupt, unpredictable plot twists that occasionally blur the effect of his shorter works. When he stretches out and delves into the irony and humor of European life, however, his narratives acquire considerable resonance. "Station Fallmerayer," written in 1933, is a heartrending account of an Austrian station master who becomes obsessed with a Russian countess he rescues from a train wreck, despite the effects his pursuit has on their respective marriages. "The Triumph of Beauty" works on a different level as Roth explores the impact of an attractive, fickle hypochondriac on her beleaguered husband. Several other narratives extend to novella length, and the collection also contains works that were intended as blueprints for novels, such as the vividly evocative, elegiac "Strawberries." His penultimate achievement, "The Leviathan," tells of a coral merchant preoccupied with the mystery of the sea, who falls for the lure of selling fake merchandise, only to join his precious original wares in the watery depths. This collection marks the first time Roth's short fiction (some of which came to light only recently) has been available in English, and although a few of these stories are immature early works, taken together they testify to the talents of a writer who was penetratingly prescient about the tragedies that marred the 20th century.
The best-selling author offers his observations on the physical decline and death of his own father, in a memoir that captures the loving relationship between father and son. Roth chronicles the life of his father, Herman, in this gripping work which won a 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award. Roth holds little back in describing his father as a man of rare intensity and fierce independence who, for better or worse, stood by his principles and held others to his own rigorous standards. Writes Roth, "His obsessive stubbornness--his stubborn obsessiveness--had very nearly driven my mother to a breakdown in her final years." Frank throughout, Roth calls his father "a pitiless realist, but I wasn't his offspring for nothing, and I could be pretty realistic, too."
A superb introduction to the caustic wit and keen observations of one of the world's greatest storytellers. Included are "Tevye the Dairyman, " his masterpiece and the basis for Fiddler on the Roof, and all 21 Railroad Stories, in which human nature and the various shocks of modernity are perceived by men and women riding the trains from shtetl to shtetl.
The magnificent work of modern fiction that brings the age of the Talmud to life. The characters include the well-known historical figures: Akiba, Yohanan, Joshua, Eleazar, Beruriah, and Elisha ben Abuyah, whose struggle to live in two worlds destroyed his chance to live in either
The work of A. Sutzkever, one of the major twentieth-century masters of verse and the last of the great Yiddish poets, is presented to the English reader in this banquet of poetry, narrative verse, and poetic fiction. Sutzkever's imposing body of work links images from Israel's present and past with the extinction of the Jews of Europe and with deeply personal reflection on human existence. In Sutzkever's poetry the Yiddish language attains a refinement, richness of sound, and complexity of meaning unknown before. His poetry has been translated into many languages, but this is the most comprehensive presentation of his work in English. Benjamin Harshav provides a biography of the poet and a critical assessment of his writings in the context of his times. The illustrations were originally created for Sutzkever's work by such artists as Marc Chagall, Yosl Bergner, Mane-Katz, Yankl Adler, and Reuven Rubin.
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