The Jewbird

Malamud: Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s edited by Philip Davis The Library of America, 712 pp., $35   Malamud: Novels and Stories of the 1960s edited by Philip Davis The Library of America, 916 pp., $35

When Bernard Malamud died, in 1986, Saul Bellow composed a eulogy for the writer with whom he had been so often juxtaposed. The critical habit of viewing Bellow, Malamud, and the younger Philip Roth as a kind of literary consortium, a Jewish American all-star team, naturally irked all three of the men from time to time. It was Bellow himself who came up with the often-quoted quip that they were the Hart, Schaffner and Marx of American letters—a pointed joke, which suggests that Americans were more used to thinking of Jews as tailors than as contributors to American literature. For his part, Malamud was capable of envying Bellow’s success, which was an order of magnitude larger even than his own. Malamud may have won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, but it was Bellow who got the Nobel Prize, as Malamud wryly observed in his diary in 1976: “Bellow gets Nobel Prize, I win $24.25 in poker.”

Yet in Bellow’s short eulogy, which can be found in his Letters, he welcomed the comparison with Malamud wholeheartedly:

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About the Author

Adam Kirsch is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Tablet. His most recent book is Why Trilling Matters (Yale).


gwhepner on July 1, 2014 at 9:33 pm

From collisions between what is tragically earnest and surreally absurd
leaps of faith will generally provide just temporary relief,
since leapers in their flights of fancy, after hovering like a hummingbird,,
collide into reality from heights of their surreal belief.

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gwhepner on July 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Losing touch with Jewish tradition,
or not understanding it, writes Adam Kirsch, is the defining trauma
of emancipation, leading to loss of inhibition
that’s why so often an emancipated Jew turns into a devout reformer.

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