“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!
Remember Me To God, Myron Kaufmann’s debut novel, came out 54 years ago this month. As Josh Lambert noted on the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, the book has fallen out of favor, though it had been initially heralded by the likes of Norman Mailer and Alfred Kazin and appeared on New York Times bestseller lists. “Even excellent books fall into obscurity all the time,” Lambert explained, “no matter how popular they’ve been—particularly when, like Kaufmann’s, they spill out over nearly 700 pages of fine print.”
The novel tells the story of a Jewish family, the Amsterdams, in 1941, a year during which the older son, Richard, manages to ascend the social ranks at Harvard and earn a coveted spot on The Harvard Lampoon and induction into the Hasty Pudding Institute. His subsequent proposal to a Radcliffe-attending society girl (named Wimsy Talbot, no less) wreaks the expected havoc within his family—making the novel, in Lambert’s comparison, the emotional equivalent of an excruciatingly slow-motion car wreck, and inspiring Jewish leaders in the late 1950s to denounce the book as a literary documentation of Kaufmann’s own Jewish self-hatred.
Yet, Lambert argues, it actually offers a thorough analysis of the phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred, rather than simply serving as an example of it. “It is as an unusually evenhanded entry into this rich tradition that Remember Me to God deserves to be remembered,” Lambert wrote, “and as a finely wrought triumph of midcentury realism so precise in its observation that it captures perfectly the incline of streets in Harvard Square and the musty smell inside the Lampoon castle.”
Read Regatta Land, by Josh Lambert
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.