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Big Jewish Novels

Jewcy ranks the most ‘essential’ Jewish fiction of the last 100 years

Marc Tracy
February 09, 2011
Franz Kafka.(Random House)
Franz Kafka.(Random House)

Jewcy’s Jason Diamond counts down “The 50 Most Essential Works of Jewish Fiction Of The Last 100 Years,” and, like any list of this type, it is designed more to start conversations than to end them.

What is most interesting to me about it, for example, is that (to my reading, anyway) Jason places a premium on how essential a work was to literature and culture at large rather than specifically to Jewish culture. Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (number two), for example, is undoubtedly one of the five most essential works of all fiction over the last 100 years, but while Jason is certainly not wrong to classify it as “Jewish”—Proust’s mother was Jewish and he identified with Jews greatly; and besides, Charles Swann, the protagonist of the first volume, is a Jew—there is more than one book that was more essential specifically to Jewish fiction than this one (like, for example, the one ranked just below it, Portnoy’s Complaint). Ditto The Catcher in the Rye, which is indeed authored by a Jew and is indeed every bookish eighth-grade boy’s favorite book, but whose influence on Jewish literature pales even against Bellow’s less-good works.

Also, let’s hear it for 2010: Both The Instructions and Witz made Jason’s list.

One other note: I guess he technically can’t count as “fiction” (although I am giving his detractors room for a great punch-line), but I would love to have seen something by Freud make it onto the list (I know he explicitly called his Moses and Monotheism an “historical novel”). I don’t even think Kafka is more Jewish than Freud. Big Jew!

Anyway, go debate!

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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