Cheryl Alexander Malcolm
Unshtetling Narratives. Depictions of Jewish Identities in British and American Literature and Film

Foreword by Jules Chametzky

January 2006. 214 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-21-3; ISBN-10 3-901993-21-5 (= SACS 3)
£24.50 (+ 2.50 p&p), €30.00 (+ 3.00 p&p), US$ 41.00 (+ 4.00 p&p)

"The title of this wonderful collection of essays is noteworthy: The 'unshtetling' refers to the need to move away from any sentimental view of an idealized, uncomplex, old world or 'shtetl' existence, but also to an 'unsettling' of other shibboleths concerning Jewish (and other) identities. Cheryl Malcolm unsettles much received and conventional wisdom about Jewish narratives and identities by careful close readings of familiar and unfamiliar texts, aided by judicious use of post-modern scholarship, but most dramatically in several essays by juxtaposing writers and stories in an unlikely and highly illuminating fashion."

Jules Chametzky, "Foreword"

Table of Contents:

Foreword by Jules Chametzky

I. Introduction: Just Follow Your Nose
1. Peninsular Thoughts
2. Fixed States and Forged Identities

II. Hyphens and Chutzpah
1. Jewish Faith and American Identity
2 Sex, Drugs, and Redemption: Bruce Jay Friedman's "When You're Excused, You're Excused" and "Lady"

III. Journeys of Assimilation
1. The Empty Bride: Cynthia Ozick's "Envy; or, Yiddish in America"
2. Having a Nice Time Here: Harold Pinter's Family Voices
3. All in the Same Boat: Zina Rohan's The Sandbeetle

IV. A Surrogate Black and a Shiksa
1. Othering the Other in Abraham Cahan's Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto
2. Unshtetling Narratives: The Yiddish American Film The Cantor's Son

V. Poets and Other Imposters
1. Marrying In and Moving Up: Anita Brookner's Providence and Cynthia Ozick's "Virility"
2. Missing Mothers and Foreskins: Langston Hughes's "Passing" and Bernard Malamud's "The Lady of the Lake"

VI. Remembrance and Survival
1. Unholy Remnants: Chariots of Fire and X-Men
2. A Good Pole in Yavneh: Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl
3. The Lucky Ones? Child Evacuees in Anita Brookner's Latecomers

VII. Laughing with Caliban
1. Calling a Corpse a Corpse: Singer and the Subversion of Nazi Rhetoric
2. The Show's Not Over Until the Schlemiel Sings: David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly

VIII. Afterword: Hands on the Wheel


"Cheryl Malcolm's Unshtetling Narratives is unsettling since it looks at Jewish identity and assimilation from the perspectives of race and class and questions the ease at which the ethnic Other was "fully accepted" on both sides of the Atlantic, by societies priding themselves on being democratic and egalitarian. Despite the great strides made by Jews in these societies, her investigations of the social and psychological dilemmas experienced by Jewish characters on both the page and the screen point to an acceptance of Ozick's belief that full assimilation is not only impossible but not even desirable. Recently, similar warnings have more potently been given by Philip Roth in American Pastoral and The Plot Against America. While Malcolm states that her subject is limited almost entirely to post-immigrant writing, the questions raised by those wroters are the foundation for contemporary Jewish writing, especially in the US, where writers like Allegra Goodman, Dara Horn and Thane Rosenbaum no longer posit the issue of what is and how we become American, but "are re-identifying the Jew with ethnicity, religion, the Holocaust and Israel" (23). I would greatly look forward to another volume on this post-assimilationist generation."

Roy Goldblatt, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies 30 (2006).

"In Unshtetling Narratives, Cheryl Alexander Malcolm presents an original combination of literary and cinematic works. Furthermore, she offers very interesting interpretations, founded on skillful and thorough close reading and written in a very specific and poetic style. Cheryl Malcolm always presents her analyses against an informed and relevant theoretical and historical background. She uses a lot of secondary sources in a critical and enlightening way: Sander Gilman, Emil Fackenheim, Irving Howe, Daniel and Jonathan Boyarin, and many others. A discourse on identity and identity formation is the central theme in this work and only on a few negligible occasions, the coherence is somewhat lost. Cheryl Malcolm has written a rich and inspired (and inspiring) analytical work, and a great contribution to Jewish studies in general and, more specifically, to the comparative study between both British and American Jewish literature and between Jewish literature and film."

Bart Lievens, EAAS (European Association of American Studies) Book Reviews.

"It must be stressed that the author's significant attention devoted to Anita Brookner (and some lesser known figures) produces unusually insightful, consistently engaging readings. For the most part, wherever Malcolm turns her restless and imaginative attention, readers will find themselves rewarded with a distinctive and provocative critical voice. There are numerous pleasures here and Malcolm's language is usually lively, spare, and illuminating. In her quest "to confront some of [the] unsettling and unshtetling absences and presences" of hypthenated Jewish cultural products in both Britain and the United States, Malcolm boldly succeeds."

Ranen Omer-Sherman, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5.2 (2006), 253-264.

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