Who We Are


On Being (and Not Being) A Jewish American Writer

I have just finished Who We Are – On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer, an anthology of 29 essays compiled by Derek Rubin. While some of the selections are re-edited essays, others have been written specifically for the anthology.

Most essays are quite insightful, even if I was more interested by what the authors I knew – such as Tova Mirvis and Allegra Goodman – had to say on the topic.

Grace Paley shares fond memories of her family. Philip Roth, whom I don’t always appreciate as a writer, wrote an engaging essay. Erica Jong‘s own contribution is amusing.

Some of these writers are the sons or daughters of Holocaust survivors; they were children whose parents were reluctant to deal with the past and who, unlike most of their friends, had no grandparents. They all acknowledge that the Shoah impacts their writings in one way or another.

Rebecca Goldstein explains the development of her relationship with philosophy. A few essays later, her daughter Yael Goldstein deals with her personal connection with Judaism while casting a new light on her mother’s relationship with religion.

Lara Vapnyar was born in Russia where she was branded as a Jew by her classmates. As a result she viewed her being Jewish as a burden. She longed to move to America and discovered, much to her surprise, that she had a different view of her Jewishness once she was there. She is proud to be called a Russian born American Jewish writer and recalls that she cried when she learnt that her stories had been translated into Hebrew.

Who We Are is a fascinating book even if the format means you need some time to read it as each new essay means a different style and approach.


10 thoughts on “Who We Are

  1. I must admit, I find anthologies like this quite hard – I do tend to prefer a complete novel, biography or factual history book. Having said that, this does sound very interesting. Maybe I should make more effort to get over my phobia!

  2. >read it as each new essay means a different style and approach
    Yes, sometimes one does need to have patience to read a book like that.

    Of these authors, the one I would enjoy most is Grace Paley. Have you read “The Loudest Voice”?

    I’m going to look for books by Lara Vapnyar.

  3. The book sounds like a good read! I like Grace Paley, enjoy Lara Vapnyar’s works, along with Tova Mirvis and even some of Philip Roth’s books.

  4. Pingback: Cold Weekly Review « Ilana-Davita

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