Context: Finished this off while lying on a new memory foam topper that I bought for our bed. Mmmmmemory foooooaaaaaammmmmm!
Here’s a strange book. I spent most of this picaresque account of a group of Jewish friends attempting to reach Jerusalem on a pilgrimage from the Ukraine trying to figure out why it’s on the 1001 books list.
Unfortunately, reading the entry in the 1001 Books book didn’t really enlighten me much. I’m aware, from the cover of the book, that Agnon was a Nobel Prize-Winner. I thus thought that perhaps it is the legacy of this book which makes its importance. It’s certainly not the plot, characters, style or other things that I usually rate a book on.
Digging around on the web, I did discover that Agnon is pretty much the apogee of modern Hebrew literature and figures largely in the identity of the nation. And, this novel, understandably from a Jewish point of view with its focus on the seemingly unattainable prize of reaching Jerusalem, would have been a common theme among the diaspora when the book was written in 1933.
The group of friends who embark on this pilgrimage do so with their only knowledge of Jerusalem coming from their scriptures. It’s almost a fantastical place which they strive to remind themselves is real and will be attainable if only they persevere against the many barriers that lie in their path. Much of this short book is taken up not so much with the journey as discussions among the friends as they stop off on the way.
This is one of those books that broadens your understanding of what’s important in other literary cultures. For that reason, I’m glad I read it.