Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Obsessing over Jewish Identity and Oppression: The Mechant of Venice, Updated

I have to admit that after 86 pages of Shylock is My Name I skipped to the end to see how Howard Jacobson dealt with the pound of flesh problem in a modern setting. (It was pretty clever.)

Did I return to page 86 and read what was in between? No, I did not. For all my reading 20th c Jewish writers and Holocaust literature, this book taught me I don't understand what being Jewish is like at all. 


A man once told me about the hostility he faced just walking home from school. He was Jewish in a Michigan city with few Jews. I know the history, the persecution, the genocide---as fact not experience. 

The characters in this updated telling of The Merchant of Venice obsess about Jewish identity and oppression. And when their daughters are old enough to date, these father obsess over the horror of their daughters marrying a Christian.

I was not taught racism in my family. Christian vilification of the Jews was something I read about in history books. 

"Being a stranger is what we do. It's the diaspora, they are at pains to assure me, that brings out the best in us....they feel no embarrassment in proclaiming that the proper Jew is a wandering Jew."

As a woman, I resented the men's controlling paternalism-- which seemed to drive their daughters to rebellion.

"As far as you're concerned, he retorted, "I am the police."
"The universe decreed that father should love their daughters not wisely but too well. And hat daughters should hate them for it."
The novel does not have much action and the conversation between Shylock and Strulovitch is intellectual, about ideas. This is not a novel for someone who prefers story and plot driven books.  I have read all of the Hogarth Shakespeare novels released so far. This one was the hardest for me to connect with, 

I received a free book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Shylock is My Name
Howard Jacobson
Hogarth Shakespeare
$15 paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8041-4134-5