It's a Mitzvah
Now that most American Jews have settled comfortably into a secular way of life without much fear of religious intolerance (except from other Jews), it’s not entirely clear what cultural function Jewish novels are supposed to perform. Jewish writers satisfy the demands of residual Jewishness by dreaming up a search for Eastern European roots (Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated) or cooking up an imaginary world of stateless exile (Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union). Others mine the Jewish past—the tragic Jewish past (Julie Orringer, The Invisible Bridge) or the heroic Jewish past (Alice Hoffman, The Dovekeepers).
Just recently, though, the Jewish religion has returned to Jewish fiction, and thank God for that: Jewish identity has its source in a Jew’s religious calling—it’s an app, as the saying now goes, not a feature—which can be reactivated at any moment.
About the Author
D.G. Myers, literary historian at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University, writes the monthly fiction chronicle and is the author of our Literary Commentary blog.