Kafka’s Jewish Languages: The Hidden Openness of Tradition
David Suchoff (English)
University of Pennsylvania Press (2012)
After Franz Kafka died, in 1924, his novels and short stories were published in ways that downplayed both his roots in Prague and his engagement with Jewish tradition and language, so as to secure their place in the German literary canon. Now, nearly a century after Kafka began to write fiction, Germany, Israel, and the Czech Republic lay claim to the writer’s legacy. In Kafka’s Jewish Languages David Suchoff brings Kafka’s stature as a specifically Jewish author into focus.
Suchoff explores the Yiddish and modern Hebrew that inspired Kafka’s vision of tradition. Citing the Jewish sources crucial to the development of Kafka’s style, the book demonstrates the intimate relationship between the author’s Jewish modes of expression and the larger literary significance of his works. Suchoff shows how “The Judgment” evokes Yiddish as a language of comic curse and examines how Yiddish, African-American, and culturally Zionist voices appear in the unfinished novel, Amerika. Reading The Trial Suchoff highlights the black humor Kafka learned from the Yiddish theater, and he interprets The Castle in light of Kafka’s involvement with the renewal of the Hebrew language. Finally, Suchoff uncovers the Yiddish and Hebrew meanings behind Kafka’s “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse-Folk,” and he considers the recent law case in Tel Aviv over the possession of Kafka’s missing manuscripts as a parable of the transnational meanings of his writing.
This new work, says Yale’s Henry Sussman, is “diligent, innovative, and supremely intelligent,” and adds significantly to Kafka scholarship and Judaic studies.
Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander: The Evidence
Joseph Roisman (classics), translations by J.C. Yardley
Roisman has published an inclusive and integrated view of Greek history from Homer to Alexander the Great as part of Wiley-Blackwell’s “Historical Sources in Translation” series. The volume incorporates fresh translations of original Greek and Roman texts, and it draws on a range of sources to link the political, military, and social history of the Greeks to their intellectual accomplishments. “If you want a thorough and expert introduction to the evidence of ancient Greek history—in other words, to the building blocks of western civilization—read this book,” wrote Cornell Professor Barry Strauss.
Foreigners and Their Food: Constructing Otherness in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Law
David M. Freidenreich
University of California Press (2011)
David Freidenreich begins this book with Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Walls,” with its oft-repeated adage, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In religion, those fences historically have been made of food, food preparation, and mandates relating to both. In these ways, among others, the world’s religions used food to define “otherness,” to identify “us” and “them.”
In Foreigners and Their Food, Freidenreich, Pulver Family Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies, explores how Jews, Christians, and Muslims establish rules about the preparation of food and the act of eating. Early on, food becomes a way to differentiate and sometimes link religions. From Judean heroes to the teachings of Augustine to consideration of Muslim hunters using non-Muslim’s dogs, the ways ancient and medieval scholars use food restrictions to think about the other are carefully traced.
It is a common theme, from the Old Testament to the Torah to the Qur’an, but Freidenreich breaks new ground as he traces these practices through history.
The Immaculate Conception Mothers’ Club
David Surette ’79
Koenisha Publications (2011)
David Surette’s work might be your best childhood friend’s, if you grew up on the streets among the characters of a working-class neighborhood and your buddy became a poet.
He writes about love and marriage and growing old, all in a voice that is authentic and honest, like a longtime friend confiding quietly over a beer.
This latest collection recalls bachelor uncles, tradesman dads with their names on their shirts, rock and roll, the streets of Malden, Mass., turning 50, his long-absentee bookmaker grandfather. “We didn’t go to the wake or funeral,/and we go to everyone’s./We figured the over and under of whether/it would make my mother happy or sad/and skipped it.”
On every page is a poem, a line, a phrase so keenly real you can’t help smiling. “I was a willing kid,/asked to go somewhere, I said, yes,/like a dog on a ride, head out the window.”
Ultimately these are the musings of a regular—and observant—guy. In one poem, “Weekend Workshop,” Surette writes: “I read my poem./The famous poet/lifted her nose like I had farted and/asked if I was putting on that accent.”
He isn’t putting on his Boston accent, or anything else, in a collection that is at once decidedly unliterary and literary as hell. —G.B.