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Book Report: Children of the Ghetto

I picked up The King of the Schnorrers judging by the cover, or really just by the spine. And I loved it. So, having loved one book of Israel Zangwill’s stuff, I thought I would rest for a little and then go on to another. And I was able to pick up an omnibus volume of Children, Dreamers, Tragedies and Comedies of the Ghetto for a dollar from, yes, a library book sale. Love those.

Children of the Ghetto was Mr. Zangwill’s big commercial success. Well, that and the play The Melting Pot, which popularized that phrase, but as a novel, this was the biggie. That’s a disappointment to me, because I adored King of Schorrers and I liked this book. It was a bit too long, I think; I could have done without the entire second volume. And in that second volume, there are too many scenes where people stand around and talk about their views of philosophy and religion for too long, but still. There are half-a-dozen great characters. Melchitsedek Pinchas is probably my favorite, a high-literary schnorrer who grew on me even into the second book; his catchphrase is the flattery that you and I are the only two men in England who can speak the Holy Tongue grammatically, and it’s the kind of thing that is wearisome the fourth or fifth time, but hilarious the eighth and ninth. But I’m fond of Esther, who is more or less our main character (although it’s the sort of book that wanders around a bunch of different characters), and is the sort of strong-young-woman character in Victorian novels who suffers a bit from blandness and domesticity but ultimately has more balls than any of the men.

And the philosophic and religious discussions, although long and dull, are on topics that are still relevant: assimilation and exceptionalism, class and money, modernity and tradition, law and spirit. So that’s all right, Best Beloved. But it would be nice to know that there were a bunch of other novels that I would be bound to like, too.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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