The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century (Paperback)
An erudite and accessible survey of Jewish life and culture in the twentieth century, as reflected in seminal texts.
Following The People and the Books, which "covers more than 2,500 years of highly variegated Jewish cultural expression" (Robert Alter, New York Times Book Review), poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch now turns to the story of modern Jewish literature. From the vast emigration of Jews out of Eastern Europe to the Holocaust to the creation of Israel, the twentieth century transformed Jewish life. The same was true of Jewish writing: the novels, plays, poems, and memoirs of Jewish writers provided intimate access to new worlds of experience.
Kirsch surveys four themes that shaped the twentieth century in Jewish literature and culture: Europe, America, Israel, and the endeavor to reimagine Judaism as a modern faith. With discussions of major books by over thirty writers—ranging from Franz Kafka to Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel to Tony Kushner, Hannah Arendt to Judith Plaskow—he argues that literature offers a new way to think about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world. With a wide scope and diverse, original observations, Kirsch draws fascinating parallels between familiar writers and their less familiar counterparts. While everyone knows the diary of Anne Frank, for example, few outside of Israel have read the diary of Hannah Senesh. Kirsch sheds new light on the literature of the Holocaust through the work of Primo Levi, explores the emergence of America as a Jewish home through the stories of Bernard Malamud, and shows how Yehuda Amichai captured the paradoxes of Israeli identity.
An insightful and engaging work from "one of America’s finest literary critics" (Wall Street Journal), The Blessing and the Curse brings the Jewish experience vividly to life.
About the Author
Adam Kirsch is the author of several books of poetry and criticism, including Who Wants to Be a Jewish Writer? and The People and the Books: Eighteen Classics of Jewish Literature. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, Kirsch is an editor at the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Review section and has written for publications including The New Yorker and Tablet. He lives in New York.
A mesmerizing—and urgently contemporary—reflection on how literary giants in Europe, America, and Israel wrestled with the twentieth century’s triumphs and tragedies. As poet and as exegete, Kirsch gives us literary criticism at its most vital and most supple.
— Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka’s Last Trial
Adam Kirsch, one of our finest critics, has written a wonderful introduction to the rich and brilliant field of twentieth-century Jewish literature, illuminating for us the work of some of its greatest contributors.
— Nicole Krauss, author of Forest Dark
The Blessing and the Curse—tell me about it! If it’s hard enough to be a Jew, and even harder to be a Jewish writer, can you imagine being a Jewish writer about Jewish writing? Adam Kirsch has been called to that task, and here in his new survey he shows himself its master. Kirsch wears the silver crown and wields the golden word processor of the tradition.
— Joshua Cohen, author of Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction