Borrowed Voices: Writing & Racial Ventriloquism in the Jewish American Imagination.

Author:Eichler-Levine, Jodi
Position:Book review

Borrowed Voices: Writing & Racial Ventriloquism in the Jewish American Imagination. By Jennifer Glaser. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2016. ix + 198 pp.

What does it mean for American Jewish writers to perform non-Jewish identities on the literary stage? In Borrowed Voices: Writing and Racial Ventriloquism in the Jewish American Imagination, Jennifer Glaser provides powerful close readings of post-1967 American Jewish literature, film, and other media, with careful attunement to voice and how writers imagine themselves into otherness. The book is a valuable contribution to Jewish studies, particularly for anyone interested in thinking through race, class, and gender as they are co-constituted across different minority groups in America. This nuanced work addresses the complex ethical valences of speaking "for" the other, with all of the attendant fraught politics that entails.

Glaser traverses this terrain in five thematic chapters that are loosely chronological, but also very clearly thematic. Chapter One, "The Politics and Poetics of Speaking the Other," includes an extended analysis of Bernard Malamud's The Tenants. Glaser pivots from this to an examination of Jewish American women writing race--and, in particular, the complexities of interracial marriage--in Chapter Two. "The Perils of Loving in America"--with vivid analysis of works by Hettie Jones, Lore Segal, and Lynne Sharon Schwartz--is one of the strongest chapters in the work, providing fresh readings that challenge the reader to take into account not only race and ethnicity, but also gender, class, and a host of other intersections, as Glaser deftly unpacks the ways that discussions of intermarriage become signposts for a host of other tensions. To wit, her observation on literary depictions of intermarriage: "If ... the figure of the Jewish converso is the ultimate trope of modernity, Jewish intermarriage, intimately related to conversion in its subtle undermining of fixed identity categories, might be called its postmodern grandchild. It is also, for the writers I have discussed, a means of claiming a voice through acts of racial ventriloquism and intimacy" (61). Glaser is a deft interpreter of these sorts of displacements.

In Chapter 3, "What We Talk About When We Talk About the Holocaust," she considers the stakes of 1970s literature via Cynthia Ozick's "The Mercenary" and Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet. Glaser then moves into the 1980s and 1990s...

To continue reading