Posturing versus real criticism

March 27, 2011

by Dow Marmur

Two weeks ago, I heard Marina Nemat speak at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. She and her family came to Canada some 20 years ago and settled in the GTA. In the hell that is her native Iran, she was imprisoned as a 16 year old for having an independent mind and held for two years in the notorious Evin jail. She has written two books about her life that have been translated into many languages, including Hebrew. She was in Jerusalem as the guest of her Israeli publishers.

When it became known that she planned to come to Israel, “all her broke lose on the Internet,” she said, because “North Americans urged me to boycott the event.” She refused. As a victim of oppression and a survivor of unspeakable suffering, she has a lot in common with many Israelis and Palestinians. She came as a witness.

Nemat was in good company. The star of the book fair was the British novelist Ian McEwan, the recipient of the 2011 prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature awarded every two years to a foreign author with an international reputation.

The pressure on McEwan from British intellectuals to boycott the event was enormous. He, too, resisted and told his Jerusalem audience that he was happy and honoured to be there. He refused to yield not because he agrees with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza but because he respects its democracy. Similarly, the Italian author Umberto Eco had to resist much pressure but, like many other eminent authors, chose to come.

McEwan spoke with admiration about three of Israel’s most distinguished writers — Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman — “who love their country, and made sacrifices for it and have been troubled by the directions it has taken.” A couple of days earlier, McEwan accompanied Grossman to the weekly demonstration in East Jerusalem to protest provocative efforts by Jewish extremists to displace Palestinian residents.

As a tangible expression of solidarity and commitment, McEwan donated the $10,000 prize to Read the rest of this entry »

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The story of how Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin was rejected in 1948 has emerged in a letter found in Jerusalem

March 22, 2011

by Dalya Alberge

A novel that became a worldwide publishing phenomenon more than 60 years after it was first published in Germany was turned down by a British publisher in 1948, according to a rejection letter found in Jerusalem.

British readers had to wait until 2009 for the first translation of Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin, a masterpiece about extreme fear under a dictatorship. It came out in Germany in 1947, weeks after the author’s death at 53, following a life blighted by mental illness and morphine.

Penguin has sold more than 300,000 paperback copies of the book in 13 months, a sensational figure for foreign literature. In the US, where it appears under the title Every Man Dies Alone, sales have topped 200,000, while the book has been translated into 20 different languages. A major German feature film is also in the pipeline.

However, Putnam & Company, bought by Penguin in 1996, failed to see its potential, even though it had published Fallada’s books in the 1930s.

Writing to a friend of Fallada – real name Rudolf Ditzen – who had submitted a specimen translation, a Putnam publishing director wrote: “I have the distinct impression that our poor author, after all his tribulations, had lost his inspiration. This is not to be wondered at, and it might have come back if he had only lived. Now we must regard this as one more of the countless war tragedies.”

The letter, sent to an Austrian Jewish writer called Carl Ehrenstein, has come to light among unpublished papers deposited at the National Library in Jerusalem a few years ago.

The file went unnoticed until now because Fallada’s name was unknown in Israel. The book has since become the number one bestseller there – selling 100,000 copies.

A newly appointed archivist noticed Fallada’s name on an uncatalogued file. Dr Stefan Litt said he would never had given it a second glance two years ago because the author was unpublished in Israel, “but it was amazing to see in the light of [Alone in Berlin] becoming a world bestseller”.

Professor Haggai Ben-Shammai, the National Library’s academic director, suggested that the British public in 1948 might not have been ready for a German novel so soon after the war. “They were probably suspicious of the possibility that there are good Germans [or those] who really suffered,” he said.

Alone in Berlin has become Penguin’s bestselling classic, beating George Orwell, Jane Austen and Dickens.

On seeing the letter yesterday, Dennis Loy Johnson, the founder of Melville House Publishing, offered another explanation for his rejection in 1948 – that Fallada ended up in East Germany and Putnam may have assumed he was a Communist. But he added that the rejection letter “simply confirms my theory of the profound lack of editorial acumen” on the part of the world’s major publishers. He said that George Putnam, the owner of the company that bore his name, had sent his own yacht in 1938 to urge Fallada to flee Germany. “It feels like a cold betrayal, doesn’t it?” he said.

From The Observer. Original article can be found here.


Interview with Ida Akerman, author of And You Shall Tell Your Children

March 16, 2011

by Doreen Wachmann

I have rarely met a happier person than 83-year-old Dr Ida Akerman who hardly stopped laughing during the course of our two-hour interview in her Jerusalem home.

Yet psychoanalyst Dr Akerman, who looks 20 years younger, is a Holocaust survivor who was haunted for most of her life by painful flashbacks which prevented her from easily re-integrating into the Jewish community and living a normal life.

The reason for our interview was the recent publication of the English edition of her book Et Tu Renconteras a tes Enfants, which took 20 years to write and which was published in French in 1995 and translated into Hebrew in 2002.

And You Shall Tell Your Children – A Chronicle of Survival details Dr Akerman’s long and hard – not only geographical but also emotional – journey from her parents’ native Poland to Berlin, where she was born, and then on to Belgium and then France.

It was from France that her parents Yehochua and Brucha Tieder were deported to Auschwitz.

By a miraculous stroke of fate, 14-year-old Ida was absent on the day of the round-up from the small Provencal village in which she and her parents were incarcerated.

After a ghastly premonitory nightmare, Ida’s mother had sent her to get information about the rumoured round-up from a Jewish market trader who lived in Avignon.

The trader had frequented the village of Le Sablet. where her family had been temporarily sheltered thanks to the intervention of a Rabbi Henri Schilli, who had been able to extricate them from a French concentration camp.

As she was too young to require a travel pass, Ida had been sent by her parents who could not travel to try to find out information in order to plan how they could possibly hide in a village riddled with Nazi collaborators.

But Mr Sokolowski of Avignon had no such information and he persuaded Ida to stay overnight till he could obtain some.

With no luck the following day in August, 1942, Ida returned to find her home sealed and empty after the Auschwitz deportation.

Still laughing, Ida told me: “I was alone in the world in my little summer dress with shoes of tissue – and not a cent.

“Suddenly, I had no parents and no home with collaborators all around. I was crying, rooted to the spot in front of the door. No one asked if I wanted the toilet or a glass of water.”

So how, nearly 70 years later, can Dr Akerman now laugh about the horrific trauma she had undergone as a teenager? Read the rest of this entry »


A World After This

March 13, 2011

by Susan Freiband

This story of an Orthodox Hungarian-Polish woman, from a wealthy Jewish family who miraculously survived the Holocaust makes for fascinating reading. It covers the period from 1938 when Lola was 15 years old to 1946 when her first child was born. During most of this time she and her husband experienced the evil and horrors of the Nazi killing machine and lost most of their families. They fled from hiding place to hiding place several times, barely escaping capture. After her husband was arrested, Lola worked tirelessly to free him from prison. Her strong faith sustained her through many trials. They were able to emigrate to the United States in 1947. Today Lola’s growing family includes her three children, twelve grandchildren and thirty-six great grandchildren. She is a successful artist, and some of her work is included in the book, along with family photographs and charts, and a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms. The book is an important contribution to Holocaust memoirs and is recommended for Holocaust collections in synagogue, high school, academic and public libraries.

Original review can be found here in the AJL newsletter.


Innovation in Jewish Law review

March 9, 2011

by Pinchas Roth

Many battles have been fought over the question of how Jewish law changes, if at all. The issues are usually fraught and the discussion is highly emotional and explosive. Publicists and historians use them as grist for their mills, but the legal scholar is left frustrated by the lack of dispassionate thought about the underlying issues. Michael Broyde, a professor of law and also an important Halakhic decisor, chose an innocuous aspect of Jewish law, and used it as a case study to investigate the general question of how innovation occurs in halakhah. His analysis focuses on Havinenu, an abridged version of the daily prayer described in the Mishnah and the Talmud. Today, this prayer is virtually unknown and almost universally unused, and Broyde asks why that is. Discussing this example allows him to demonstrate his general claim, that halakhah changes over time through the intensive process of learning, interpretation and re-interpretation. New interpretation – chiddush – is the vehicle for organic change.

This slim volume follows the history of interpretation of the talmudic sources methodically and carefully. It provides a rare opportunity to watch the thought process of a halakhist as he progresses from the primary sources, navigating the various and conflicting interpretations by medieval and early modern commentators, to practical conclusions about the present day. Most of the book consists of textual analysis of sources presented in Hebrew and in English translation, and the author makes an effort to explain these sources in an accessible way. Not light reading, but an opportunity for readers without a very strong background in Jewish law to study a topic in depth.

The original article may be found here in the AJL Newsletter.