Rebecca Goldstein, Mazel (Viking, 1995)
Gender and the Yiddish world of Ashkenaz combine in Goldstein's magical tale. The narrative plays Hasidic parable and philosophical and feminist polemic against each other. This familial epic, centered around four generations of women, leads us from the shtetl to the Haskalah and the rebelliousness of the 1960s. Goldstein asks, Is the result freedom or another form of exile? and students enjoy the argument as they untangle its wonderful, multilingual plot.
Primo Levi, Se questo e un uomo, published as Survival in Auschwitz, translated by Stuart Woolf (Macmillan, 1961)
Reading Primo Levi, students discover "the gray zone"—the ambiguity of choice in the Lager—in this "gigantic biological and social experiment" dedicated to the destruction of the Jews. Here there is no "Warum," no why, and I join with my students in their questioning of the horizon of possibility in the post-Holocaust world. We are awestruck by the precision of Levi's careful and accurate account, yet puzzle over the meanings of the incidents he recounts as he asks, "Are they not themselves stories of a new Bible?"
A. B. Yehoshua, Mr. Mani, translated by Hillel Halkin (Doubleday, 1992)
This novel of Zionist longing and biblically inspired myth takes us from present-day Israel into the Sephardic world of nineteenth- century Jerusalem and the Mediterranean. Yehoshua crafts five conversations in which we hear only one speaker, one side of the discussion, and imagine the rest of the dialogue. Yehoshua's characters engage their neighbors in fateful experiences. Act and rhetoric intertwine here: the English Ladies Reading Circle meets in the Jerusalem Bibliophile Society to discuss Charles Dickens's latest novel, David Copperfield, as Yehoshua asks us how novelists compete with their predecessors even as they acknowledge their achievement.