An End to Dying, by Sam Astrachan
In spite of the warning on the jacket, An End to Dying, a first novel by a twenty-one-year-old recent graduate of Columbia, is “another autobiographical novel of groping youth.” This is its failing, but also its virtue. It fails because, like most first novels, or perhaps like all novels written in America since the war, it lacks a tone of its own. Its virtue, at the same time, is that it is so typical: it clearly expresses the dilemma of young American Jews who desperately seek their identity, their “name in the street,” and come to feel during the search that the streets in America have no names. Sam Star (the young hero and narrator of the book) repudiates the garbled Judaism of his rich uncles, the New York Cohens, who have migrated to America from East Europe. America, for them, he believes, has become the land of the lotus eaters, a paradise of escape whose opium is green dollar bills. As the Kagans of Czarist Russia, they lived Judaism in a purer form. And it is this purer Judaism of a latter day East Europe which Mr. Astrachan celebrates in his novel. He sees the Kagans not as a stoop-shouldered, meek, repressed community of Jews isolated against the backdrop of gigantic Russia, but as a people driven by a will to power and possessing the spiritual means to achieve it. If there is something of fantasy in Mr. Astrachan’s vision of his ancestors, there is also a conviction that gives to the first half of the novel real force and brilliance. This is especially true of the portrait of Jacob Kagan, Sam Star’s eldest uncle.
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