Twenty-One Stories, by S. Y. Agnon

Agnon was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. He was born in 1888 in Austria and experienced the birth of Zionism, and the rebuilding of Israel as the Jewish homeland. The date of composition of the stories in this volume spans his lifetime; correspondingly they reflect the variety of Jewish experiences from the old world to post-Holocaust Europe. Unsurprisingly, while the earlier stories are charming portraits of Jewish traditional life, the later stories are dark and sad, filled with unfulfilled longing and loss. Many of these narratives include some element of the supernatural or perhaps just are intended to invoke a dreaming state. The narrator is (usually) swept along by events he has no control over, items (and people) appear and disappear, and everything drips with symbolism.

Excellent work, but perhaps reading it all at once like I did was not a good idea. These stories deserve to be read, and savored, one at a time. Finishing it in one gulp gave me a bit of mental indigestion.

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