Johanna Kaplan's Serious American Jewish Comedy

The characters in her new story collection are fully formed creatures of that transitional 20th-century moment between European Jewish survivors and American forgetters.


Ruth R. Wisse
COLUMN
April 27 2022
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is a Mosaic columnist, professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

In an issue of Commentary magazine in 1969 I discovered a story by Johanna Kaplan that seemed to come straight out of my own past. A girl named Miriam plays a partisan of the Warsaw Ghetto in her summer camp’s Yiddish dramatic production for Parents’ Day. Having spent fourteen years at similar Jewish summer camps, sometimes also starring in such plays, I found several points of comparison, and I even knew the words to the song Miriam sings that brings down the curtain: “exhausted from this small victory, for our new, free generation.” But great fiction has it all over personal experience, for though I was not at all like Kaplan’s heroine, her summer at camp has remained more vivid to me than any of mine. Literature put life into sharper perspective.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Literature, Philip Roth