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Extracts from the Apr 2009 Journal

Rereading The Reader

Bernhard Schlink’s 1995 novel Der Vorleser (the term means someone who reads aloud to someone else) has been a huge international success, translated into some 39 languages, topping the New York Times bestseller list, and receiving the ultimate accolade of nomination by Oprah Winfrey. Sales of The Reader will doubtless derive a fresh boost from the film version, which was reviewed in our March issue. The original text of the novel is markedly superior to the film screenplay by David Hare, whose clunking style and evident lack of familiarity with the Germany of the 1960s do not do justice to the sparse, cool prose of the book, which is interspersed with more reflective and lyrical passages. [more...]

Art notes (review)

Does the creative spirit flourish in trauma and alienation? The Ben Uri Art Gallery has collaborated with the Courtauld Institute’s new MA teaching module, Arts in Exile in Britain 1933-45, to create an exciting exhibition: Forced Journeys: Artists In Exile in Britain c 1933-1945 (until 19 April). Largely drawn from the Gallery’s extensive collection, it features the great Modernist and Expressionist refugee artists whose subtle and dangerous odyssey was to project the darkness of their times.
The 90-work show explores the effects of exile and internment on artists trapped in the Second World War and their contribution to British art scholarship. Internees on the Isle of Man continued to create work and hold concerts and exhibitions; lithographers tore up lino from the floor; sculptors like Pamina Liebert-Mahrenholz sculpted with bread during her month at Holloway Prison; and the Dadaist artist, Kurt Schwitters, used lino, junk and porridge.
Ben Uri chair David Glasser stresses that the exhibition’s focus is the exiled rather than the Jewish artist. In his introduction to the catalogue, he explains that complex issues of identity arising from the status of émigrés are relevant today - such as images of Chinese, West Indian and Cypriot émigrés, portrayed by Eva Frankfurther when she worked at Lyons Corner House.
Forced to leave Austria with her mother, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky depicts a nude woman adrift with others on a choppy sea in a boat. The vision is bleak and terrifying. Her life-long friend, Max Beckmann, who fled Germany after the opening of the notorious Entartete Kunst exhibition in Berlin, echoes this nightmarish theme of being rowed away, in a tryptich of brutality. Schwitters’s Ship in the Sea offers a cubist example of fear and loneliness. Even Ernst Eisenmayer’s sketches of Southwark and Kensington pre-fabs and his Cityscape have a dark and alien gloom, while Hans Feibusch’s Bomb Damage near St Paul’s carries his own war into the dreariness of shattered buildings overlooked by a less than reassuring cathedral. Hermann Fechenbach’s yellow sky with soaring eagles hints at the predatory omniscience of the Third Reich. [more...]

An important and welcome beginning (book review)

THE BOND OF MEMORY: POLISH CHRISTIANS IN DIALOGUE WITH JEWS AND JUDAISM
edited by Zbigniew Nosowski
Warsaw: Wiez Laboratory, Institute for Social Analysis and Dialogue ( ul. Trebacka 3, 00-074 Warsaw, Poland), 2008, 64 pp. [more...]

Letter from Israel: A friend and mentor

The following paragraph in a review of the book My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search For His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq by Ariel Sabar, on the internet site of the San Diego Jewish World, made me jump:
It was his Hebrew History teacher, Professor Chaim Rabin, who lit the spark to study his own ancient tongue, Aramaic. There were many ancient texts that up until that point were never deciphered for lack of knowledge of the language. Rabin encouraged Sabar to study Hebrew and Aramaic side by side and see how one linked to another.
The book describes the history of the Jewish community of Kurdistan, the experiences of the author’s father, Yona, as a youngster growing up in Kurdistan, the family’s immigration to Israel soon after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Yona’s determination to attend university despite the difficulties encountered by Sephardi immigrants at that time. The author, who grew up in California, was estranged from his father for many years, primarily because of the cultural gulf between them. However, a chance encounter triggered his interest in the history of his father and the Jewish community of Kurdistan, and this helped him to overcome the gulf.
All very interesting and worthwhile, but what interested me was the reference to Chaim Rabin, who died in 1996 aged 79. Chaim was a friend and mentor to me and my family for many years. In fact, when I moved to Israel, in 1964, to study and work at the Hebrew University, Chaim and his wife Batya were among the first to invite me to their home for a meal on a Friday night or Shabbat. In fact, my family’s association with Batya, née Emmanuel, goes back to Hamburg, Germany, where her parents and my grandparents lived near one another. But that’s another story. Our paths crossed again in London, when Batya, who qualified as a social worker, worked in that capacity for the Jewish Blind Society, of which my late father, Manfred Vanson, was secretary.
Chaim Rabin had a very distinguished career as Professor of Semitic Languages at Oxford University and later at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a brilliant man, with an extensive knowledge of ancient and modern languages. He once told me that the way he learned any new foreign language was simply to pick up a detective novel in that language and read it. He was also instrumental in establishing the Israel Translators’ Association, as well as the concept of translation studies as an academic subject.
But above all, Chaim was a kind person who never put on the airs and graces or professorial demeanour that are sometimes adopted by persons who have failed to achieve even half the distinction that he acquired. It was always interesting to talk to him, though he never tried to impress his interlocutor by displaying erudite knowledge. He loved to tell a good joke, especially if it had a linguistic twist, and I still remember the one about the French professor of linguistics who complained about the sad, harsh cadences of Hebrew but noted that there was only one word with a happy sound: ‘umlala’ - meaning miserable.
A few days after reading the book review I attended a meeting of the Jerusalem Translators’ Association. The guest lecturer was a specialist in preparing indices for academic books who had studied ancient languages. I happened to mention the fact that Chaim Rabin’s name had cropped up in far-off San Diego and, when I described the paragraph quoted above, she said ‘You must be talking about Yona Sabar.’ The world of Jewish scholarship is both wide-ranging and intimate, it seems.
 [link]

Letters to the Editor

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