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By Avner Holtzman
Published February 21, 2017
“A remarkable story, superbly told” —David G. Roskies, The Jewish Theological Seminary
A moving inquiry into the dramatic life, epic success, and ultimate tragedy of the great Hebrew poet
By the time he was twenty-eight, Hayim Nahman Bialik was already considered the National Hebrew Poet. He had only published a single collection, but his deeply personal poetry established a profound link between the secular and the traditional that would become paramount to a national Jewish identity in the twentieth century. When he died unexpectedly in 1934, the outpouring of grief was unprecedented, confirming him as a father figure for the Zionist movement in Palestine, and around the world.
Using extensive research and elegant readings of Bialik’s poems, Avner Holtzman investigates the poet’s dramatic life, complex personality, beloved verse, and continued popularity. This clear-eyed and thorough biography explores how Bialik overcame intense personal struggles to become a charismatic literary leader at the core of modern Hebrew culture.
By Benjamin Taylor
Published October 27, 2015
“A marvel of brief biography” —The New York Times Book Review
An arresting new study of the life, times, and achievement of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century
“Taylor’s endeavor is not to explain the life by the novel or the novel by the life but to show how different events, different emotional upheavals, fired Proust’s imagination and, albeit sometimes completely transformed, appeared in his work. The result is a very subtle, thought-provoking book.” —Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzac’s Omelette and Monsieur Proust’s Library
Marcel Proust came into his own as a novelist comparatively late in life, yet only Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were his equals when it came to creating characters as memorably human. As biographer Benjamin Taylor suggests, Proust was a literary lightweight before writing his multivolume masterwork In Search of Lost Time, but following a series of momentous historical and personal events, he became—against all expectations—one of the greatest writers of his, and indeed any, era.
This insightful, beautifully written biography examines Proust’s artistic struggles—the “search” of the subtitle—and stunning metamorphosis in the context of his times. Taylor provides an in-depth study of the author’s life while exploring how Proust’s personal correspondence and published works were greatly informed by his mother’s Judaism, his homosexuality, and such dramatic events as the Dreyfus Affair and, above all, World War I. As Taylor writes in his prologue, “Proust’s Search is the most encyclopedic of novels, encompassing the essentials of human nature. . . . His account, running from the early years of the Third Republic to the aftermath of World War I, becomes the inclusive story of all lives, a colossal mimesis. To read the entire Search is to find oneself transfigured and victorious at journey’s end, at home in time and in eternity too.”
By Berel Lang
Published November 26, 2013
“A fresh vision” —Jewish Book Council
In 1943, twenty-four-year-old Primo Levi had just begun a career in chemistry when, after joining a partisan group, he was captured by the Italian Fascist Militia and deported to Auschwitz. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his transport, he was one of fewer than 25 who survived the eleven months before the camp’s liberation. Upon returning to his native Turin, Levi resumed work as a chemist and was employed for thirty years by a company specializing in paints and other chemical coatings. Yet soon after his return to Turin, he also began writing—memoirs, essays, novels, short stories, poetry—and it is for this work that he has won international recognition. His first book, If This Is a Man, issued in 1947 after great difficulty in finding a publisher, remains a landmark document of the twentieth century.
Berel Lang's groundbreaking biography shines new light on Levi’s role as a major intellectual and literary figure—an important Holocaust writer and witness but also an innovative moral thinker in whom his two roles as chemist and writer converged, providing the “matter” of his life. Levi’s writing combined a scientist’s attentiveness to structure and detail, an ironic imagination that found in all nature an ingenuity at once inviting and evasive, and a powerful and passionate moral imagination. Lang’s approach provides a philosophically acute and nuanced analysis of Levi as thinker, witness, writer, and scientific detective.
By Saul Friedländer
Published April 16, 2013
“Stimulating” —The Jewish Ledger
Franz Kafka was the poet of his own disorder. Throughout his life he struggled with a pervasive sense of shame and guilt that left traces in his daily existence—in his many letters, in his extensive diaries, and especially in his fiction. This stimulating book investigates some of the sources of Kafka’s personal anguish and its complex reflections in his imaginary world.
In his query, Saul Friedländer probes major aspects of Kafka’s life (family, Judaism, love and sex, writing, illness, and despair) that until now have been skewed by posthumous censorship. Contrary to Kafka’s dying request that all his papers be burned, Max Brod, Kafka’s closest friend and literary executor, edited and published the author’s novels and other works soon after his death in 1924. Friedländer shows that, when reinserted in Kafka’s letters and diaries, deleted segments lift the mask of “sainthood” frequently attached to the writer and thus restore previously hidden aspects of his individuality.