Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Spertus exhibit of Jewish Modernist Artists

In next week's Forward, out next Friday the 30th, I review the current exhibit at Spertus on Jewish Modernist Artists, focusing on the theme of reinvention that I saw in the artwork and also in Spertus itself.  The exhibit is vibrant and fascinating. Yet, as I write in the review, while looking at the pieces I felt like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, wanting to disappear into a forever lost Chicago world of Yiddishkeit.

My Review of Shimon Attie in the Forward

My review of new Shimon Attie exhibit at Northwestern's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.  Visit the exhibit and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Overheard at Nathan Englander Reading Last Night

Last night I attended a Nathan Englander lecture at Northwestern. He was the inaugural speaker for the Renee and Lester Crown speaker series sponsored by the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies (last night it was announced that due to a generous donation from the Crown Family, it will now be known as Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies.) His most recent book is "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank."

As I eagerly awaited his talk, I listened to two college students behind me:

Boy: Oh, this is Nathan Englander who wrote the story we just read in class?
Girl: Yes, that Nathan Englander. I find his stories all kind of creepy in tone.
Boy: Yeah.
Girl: He is obsessed with the Holocaust.
Boy: That's a weird game to play.
Girl: I've definitely read Anne Frank and it inspired me to write a diary, but I never wondered where I'm going to hide when the Nazis come."

There's obviously some kind of generational disconnect: Englander during his rambling yet evocative talk (he was like a Woody Allen on steroids or hallucinogens) mentioned a British review of his most recent book that said, "It's absurd--for Jews in America to worry about the Holocaust." Englander said, "That was so British! All we talk about is the Holocaust and food!"

I think it's the Jewish "shtetl" on Long Island that Englander grew up in and then disavowed (but now writes about even when he is not directly writing about it) that talks all the time about the Holocaust and food, not the young Jewish college students like those behind me last night who think of the Holocaust as something that happened a lifetime ago and that they have no connection to.

To be fair, Englander knows he is treading a fine line. He joked at the end of his talk that his goal for his unborn children is for them to be fluent in reading Torah and doing a "'drash" and yet at the same time to be "anti-organized religion." And yet it is in holding these seemingly irreconcilable polar positions at the same time within one's mind that is the seed of creating fiction. Indeed he said that it was exploring the idea that the most glorious times for Jews in history were preceded by tragic times, the act of "holding both these things at the same time" in his brain, that led to the shaping of his book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review of Poet Alan Shapiro's Debut Novel in the Forward

My review of Alan Shapiro's first novel, Broadway Baby is in this Friday's edition of The Forward.

What's really interesting is how this is a sympathetic account of the life of a Jewish Mother, reclaiming the stereotype of the Jewish Mother from the likes of male authors like Philip Roth who depicted the Jewish Mother with dark humor but without empathy. The voice of Portnoy was that of an angry male adolescent, the male Jewish Son, this is a sympathetic portrait of a fifties-era Jewish Mother.

It's also intriguing to read Shapiro's biographical poetry on the same exact topics that he writes about in this novel (a son forced to take care of an aged, incontinent grandmother and resenting the loss of his childhood; a brother who is a musical actor and dies of cancer) and to see how different the novel form is from poetry.