Monday, June 15, 2009
I think my favorite experience in the world (OK, one of my favorites) is reading an academic text that is so captivating that I can't put it down. With fiction this isn't so rare, I get caught up in the story and lose sense of time and place, but with an academic text, even a good one, I usually need a cup of coffee and a lot of breaks in order to get through the reading. I just read Call it English by Hannah Wirth-Nesher. I have wanted to read it for a long time and when I saw it on the New Acquisitions shelf of the Rothberg library, I couldn't resist. I knew it would be interesting, but I was surprised that I found myself staying up late and waking up early just to read one more page... I finished it this morning before school, with the kind of adrenaline rush of coming to a fitting and satisfying conclusion mixed with the disappointment that the book had ended - and that I would have to return it to the library. For anyone interested in Jewish American Literature, this is a must-read. It's a sweeping but detail-driven study in the multiple ways that Yiddish and Hebrew enter Jewish American fiction written in English, and how immigrant-spoken (accented) English is represented in this fiction - not only in terms of the mechanics of it but also the meanings behind it; the wordplay, the alienation, the opportunity, the limitations. It focuses on the complicated relationship that Jewish American literature has to English, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and the multilingual nature of the literature, even as fluency in Yiddish and Hebrew fade among American Jews, and it explores the translation of Jewish concepts and languages to a non-Jewish audience, as well as to a Jewish audience alienated from knowledge of older Jewish traditions and languages. It is beautifully written, deeply insightful, risk-taking, ground-breaking, broad-ranging... OK, it's just really, really good.