Jonathan Safran Foer: Not the Great American Jewish Novelist

Sept. 6 2016

In Here I Am, his new novel, Jonathan Safran Foer chronicles the unhappy and dissolving marriage of Jacob and Julia Bloch, two highly educated, upper-middle-class American Jews. In addition to finding the novel filled with “joyless prose about joyless people,” Alexander Nazaryan deems Foer’s attempt to write a profound work of American Jewish literature simultaneously kitschy and pretentious:

Because Here I Am concerns Jews and sex, comparisons with Philip Roth are inevitable. They are also misguided, in good part because Foer is less than half of Roth’s age and couldn’t possibly have the same preoccupations. Yet he tries, as if the responsibility of being a Jewish American novelist required of him protracted shows of thematic fealty to his miglior fabbro. For Roth, Judaism was substratum, a world to which he always returned but was never afraid to leave. . . . For Foer, it is a carapace into which he retreats whenever the fundamental business of writing fiction true to life surpasses his abilities of observation. . . . If kitsch has a “fairy-tale glow,” as Theodor Adorno once said, then Here I Am is positively radiant. . . .

About halfway through the novel, Foer swaps the plight of the Blochs for that of Israel. Israeli cousins come to visit Jacob; as they arrive in Washington, an earthquake rocks the Middle East, potentially leaving Israel weakened relative to its Arab neighbors. Passages about sexting are replaced by passages about the Palestinian issue. Call me prurient, but I preferred the sexting, especially since Foer’s depiction of Israelis seem as complex as that of You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, that little-remembered comedy in which Adam Sandler plays an Israeli soldier living as a hairdresser in Manhattan. Say what you will, at least Sandler tried for laughs. I haven’t a clue what Foer was trying for.

Read more at Los Angeles Times

More about: Arts & Culture, Israel, Jewish literature, Philip Roth


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount