The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction.

Author:Levinson, Julian
Position:Book review

The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction. Edited by Victoria Aarons, Avinoam J. Patt, and Mark Schechner. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014. xii + 576 pp.

Anyone paying attention to recent American Jewish fiction knows the field is expanding. New voices have spoken, complex literary devices have been used, narratives have been drawn from the most unlikely corners of the Jewish world. But who can say what these developments mean in the larger sweep of Jewish cultural history? Who can sift through the roster of new names to get at the main questions-whether American Jewish literature remains a coherent category, how it measures up in relation to celebrated earlier periods, whom it speaks to and for, how it should be defined, and what sort of future it may have? Many thousands of pages must be read and a generous, expansive sense of "Jewish fiction" must be embraced before such questions can be responsibly addressed.

Fortunately for us, three distinguished scholars with impeccable literary taste have produced an anthology that winnows the field while remaining faithful to its variety. The volume is big in every sense of the word. Using a format almost the size of a tractate of the Vilna Shas, it contains thirty-six (double Chai!) works by some of our worthiest writers, with appendices, biographical information, and a wide-ranging introduction. But if these trappings bespeak a scholarly agenda, the works themselves are compulsively readable, emotionally gripping, often quite hilarious. The selections in the first half of the anthology come from winners of the annual Edward Lewis Wallant Award, given each year to a work of "significance for the American Jew." Our editors served for eight years on the award committee, along with others. Having survived multiple readers and stages of vetting, these selections thus represent something like a consensus view of the emerging standard in America Jewish fiction. The second half of the anthology moves farther afield, introducing some newer and relatively neglected names. Marquee figures such as Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, and Jonathan Lethem are justifiably excluded to make way for newcomers, including three who were born in Russia (Maxim Shrayer, Nadia Kalman, and Lara Vapnyar), one in Latvia (David Bezmozgis), one in South Africa (Tony Eprile), and two in Israel (Ehud Havazelet and Avner Mandelbaum). Such writers have been shaped by histories largely unfamiliar to native-born Americans, especially on the deepest levels of felt experience. Even as they filter these experiences through the idioms and rhythms of contemporary American fiction, they remind us of just how variable the Jewish...

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