New Immigrant Literatures in the United States: A Sourcebook to Our Multicultural Literary Heritage

By Alpana Sharma Knippling | Go to book overview
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erful force particularly in the work of Rosaly De Maios Roffman, David Altabe, and Ammiel Alcalay. These are well-traveled poets, scholars in numerous literatures--Spanish, Hebrew, Japanese, Serbo-Croatian, and so on--and Altabe and Alcalay are both translators. Their poems infrequently confront the American experience but often address or allude to issues of international scope. For example, Roffman "Sometimes people think" shows the poet's recognizing that images of contemporary human horrors immediately remind her of the Holocaust. In addition, Alcalay is at the forefront of the artistic movement to widen world understanding of the tragedy in the former Yugoslavia. To this end, he has edited a special issue of the journal Lusitania and Zlatko Dizdarevic's Sarajevo, A War Journal.

Given the prominence of the Holocaust in the Jews' twentieth-century history, it is not surprising that memory, history, sense of place, loss, and exile are a fourth issue pervasive in many works by Sephardic writers, though in quite different ways. Sciaky Farewell to Salonika, written at the close of World War II, captures and preserves a pre-World War I world swathed in tradition but on the brink of enormous and violent changes. In America in 1946 Sciaky no longer hears ancestral voices pulling him toward a traditional life; he hears primarily the desire for freedom and peace expressed by the warring and innocent nationalities of a disintegrating empire. Ruth Knafo Setton "Pieds Noirs" effectively reveals how folklore and ethnicity haunt children who have been encouraged to hide their identity. Alcalay spectacular poem "I Had Thought of Writing a Play Based on the Following Facts" presents the complexities of national identity as well as the contemporary world's destruction of the past. Further, how the immigrant's memories of the old country's people, values, and assumptions shape his or her experience of America is one subject of Stanley Sultan Rabbi, Gloria L. Kirchheimer "Two Stories," and several poems by Stephen Levy. One more example is Sarah Melhado White, who is half Sephardic and who suggests that Jewish history informs the fragmented world depicted in many of her tales.

A fifth theme for Sephardic writers is multiple identity, first sounded in Farewell to Salonika as Sciaky detailed the impact on him of Sephardic and Islamic culture. Herbert Hadad memoir pieces, Jordan Elgrably soon-to-be-finished novel, and Ammiel Alcalay poetry all explore the pleasures and dilemmas faced by those with hearts and minds embedded in more than one culture.


CONCLUSION

Offering a glimpse into a rich Jewish culture different from the widely known Eastern European one, the literature of twentieth-century American Sephardim deserves further attention. Much work by Sephardim also resonates with figures, attitudes toward ritual and the past, social and ideological concerns that are part of the fabric of American life. The best of it combines an emphasis on concrete and intimate detail and a concern with universal human issues.

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