The Apostleis a fictional retelling of the story of Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish Pharisee who became the Christian missionary to the Gentiles.
Sholem Asch goes over the same ground covered in the Book of Acts but adds in all the New Testament epistles, which makes the story much longer and far less interesting.
Asch is out to show how central the Jews are to Christianity and he can’t be bothered with trivia like plot and characterization. Events that might have been interesting if told by a storyteller get short shrift.
In place of dialogue, the characters quote scripture— from the King James version of the Bible, no less. Why would someone writing about the first century from the vantage point of the 1930s have the characters speak in Elizabethan English?
Asch tries to account for some of the New Testament references that perplex today’s readers. He makes Paul an epileptic, blind in one eye, to account for his thorn in the flesh and his visions. Unfortunately, Asch isn’t able to blend his suppositions into anything resembling a human being. Paul is about as credible as a paper doll.
The Apostle is neither a good novel, good theology, or good history. It’s just a bore.
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943
1943 bestseller # 7
Between 1910 and 1930 in England’s North County city of Doomington, Jews live on the odd-numbered side of Magnolia Street and gentiles live on the even-numbered side. Those 24 households hold a microcosm of human nature complicated by clashing cultures.
For the most part, Jews and gentiles don’t even recognize each others’ existence. Few make an attempt to cross the street; even fewer succeed. The threat of war hangs over both sides of the street like August humidity, invisible yet palpable.
With his eye for detail and ear for speech, author Louis Golding makes Magnolia Street pulsate with life, sob with loss, and keen the dead who died for nothing at all.
Magnolia Street has no plot to speak of. The book is a collection of related episodes hung together by a few names and anecdotes. You can lay the book down and pick up again days later without having lost the thread of the plot because Golding is constantly reminding readers who so-and-so is.
Perhaps because of those deficiencies, the novel feels like the visit of a slightly older childhood friend who helps you understand the half-remembered events and conversations that shaped your life. It’s no great novel, but it’s an intense emotional experience.
Five Leaves Publications, 2006
1932 bestseller #4
In The Enemy Camp, Jerome Weidman looks at Jewish-Gentile relations through a Jew’s eyes.
Taken from an orphanage, George Hurst was raised on the Lower East Side by “Aunt” Tessie. He accepted her values as he accepted her love, without question, on all but one thing: his best friend, Danny Schorr.
Tessie thinks Danny is no good — and she’s right.
Danny uses George, kills his chance of a law degree, steals his girl, and goes on to make a fortune.
George pulls himself together, becomes a successful accountant, and marries a Main Line Philadelphia girl.
Suddenly, with one phone call, George’s past threatens to undo the respectable suburban commuter life he’s built for himself.
Weidman is a fine storyteller with a keen eye for characterization. He weaves a complex story about a basically nice guy with a few blind spots. George is likable, trustworthy, and caring— even though he sometimes does things that are stupid and mean.
It’s temping to see The Enemy Camp as a tribute to our contemporary lack of prejudice.
That would be a mistake.
We haven’t eliminated prejudice. We’ve merely changed the subjects about which we are prejudiced.
The Enemy Camp
by Jerome Weidman
Random House, 1958
My Grade: B+