The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century (Paperback)

The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century Cover Image

The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century (Paperback)

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An erudite and accessible survey of Jewish life and culture in the twentieth century, as reflected in seminal texts.


Following The People and the Books, which "covers more than 2,500 years of highly variegated Jewish cultural expression" (Robert Alter, New York Times Book Review), poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch now turns to the story of modern Jewish literature. From the vast emigration of Jews out of Eastern Europe to the Holocaust to the creation of Israel, the twentieth century transformed Jewish life. The same was true of Jewish writing: the novels, plays, poems, and memoirs of Jewish writers provided intimate access to new worlds of experience.


Kirsch surveys four themes that shaped the twentieth century in Jewish literature and culture: Europe, America, Israel, and the endeavor to reimagine Judaism as a modern faith. With discussions of major books by over thirty writers—ranging from Franz Kafka to Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel to Tony Kushner, Hannah Arendt to Judith Plaskow—he argues that literature offers a new way to think about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world. With a wide scope and diverse, original observations, Kirsch draws fascinating parallels between familiar writers and their less familiar counterparts. While everyone knows the diary of Anne Frank, for example, few outside of Israel have read the diary of Hannah Senesh. Kirsch sheds new light on the literature of the Holocaust through the work of Primo Levi, explores the emergence of America as a Jewish home through the stories of Bernard Malamud, and shows how Yehuda Amichai captured the paradoxes of Israeli identity.


An insightful and engaging work from "one of America’s finest literary critics" (Wall Street Journal), The Blessing and the Curse brings the Jewish experience vividly to life.



Adam Kirsch is the author of several books of poetry and criticism, including Who Wants to Be a Jewish Writer? and The People and the Books: Eighteen Classics of Jewish Literature. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, Kirsch is an editor at the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Review section and has written for publications including The New Yorker and Tablet. He lives in New York.
Product Details ISBN: 9780393868371
ISBN-10: 0393868370
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: November 2nd, 2021
Pages: 304
Language: English
A mesmerizing—and urgently contemporary—reflection on how literary giants in Europe, America, and Israel wrestled with the twentieth century’s triumphs and tragedies. As poet and as exegete, Kirsch gives us literary criticism at its most vital and most supple.
— Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka’s Last Trial

Adam Kirsch, one of our finest critics, has written a wonderful introduction to the rich and brilliant field of twentieth-century Jewish literature, illuminating for us the work of some of its greatest contributors.
— Nicole Krauss, author of Forest Dark

The Blessing and the Curse—tell me about it! If it’s hard enough to be a Jew, and even harder to be a Jewish writer, can you imagine being a Jewish writer about Jewish writing? Adam Kirsch has been called to that task, and here in his new survey he shows himself its master. Kirsch wears the silver crown and wields the golden word processor of the tradition.

— Joshua Cohen, author of Attention: Dispatches from a Land of Distraction

THE SANTA FE LITERARY FESTIVAL

Celebrating the power of story, the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival will be an unforgettable weekend dedicated to a shared love and language of ideas. Collected Works Bookstore is thrilled to be the official bookstore of the Festival. 

Bestselling, prizewinning authors and literary legends like Margaret Atwood, Joy Harjo, Colson Whitehead, Sandra Cisneros, John Grisham, amongst others, will headline the festival, discussing their work with readings and book signings that set the stage for further inspired conversations.

NOTE: If you purchase a festival event ticket that is INCLUSIVE of the author's book, you will receive that book upon check-in for your event at the festival.

To order books by festival authors directly from CW, see below. Collected Works will be carrying a wide selection of books by all participating authors available for online pre-order and at the on-site festival bookstore May 20-23.

Purchase your tickets from the SF Literary Festival website here.

Purchase your books by festival authors directly from CW below:

Margaret Atwood     Freddie Bitsoie     Sandra Cisneros

Lynn Cline     William deBuys     Ashley Ford

John Grisham     Roshi Joan Halifax     Joy Harjo

Anne Hillerman     Cheryl Alters Jamison     Craig Johnson

Asma Khan     Phil Klay      Jon Krakauer

Valeria Luiselli     Deborah Madison      Emily St. John Mandel

George R. R. Martin      James McGrath Morris     Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich of Honey & Co. 

Carmella Padilla     Douglas Preston     Kirstin Valdez Quade

Bob Shacochis     Henry Shukman     Hampton Sides

Bryant Terry     Darryl Lorenzo Wellington     Colson Whitehead

Don Winslow     Lawrence Wright