Here I Am: Contemporary Jewish Stories from Around the World

Here I Am: Contemporary Jewish Stories From Around The World won the Oakland PEN International Josephine Miles Award for the highest standards of non-mainstream literature. Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley, writes that Here I Am is remarkable for its breadth and variety of writers represented, with some surprising choices on both scores. It conveys a vividly fresh sense of the cultural meaning of Diaspora and should be of keen interest to a wide spectrum of readers." The collection includes stories from six continents and twenty-four countries. Contributors number such noted writers as Cynthia Ozick, Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi, Nadine Gordimer, Allegra Goodman, and authors from countries previously under the communist bloc in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union. Here I Am is used throughout the country in college and adult education classes, book groups, and by individuals.

Over a process of several years, my coeditor, Elaine Marcus Starkman, and I went through hundreds of stories, a lengthy process-in some cases as long as a year or two, or more. The stories came forth slowly, often by word of mouth or through recommendations. More than once, one writer would lead us to another, or at least pave the way so that we could find writers in countries that seemed to be devoid of Jewish work. There were many discoveries that were found in this way by writers who were unknown to us at the time, and the pleasure of discovering fiction from countries where we had despaired of finding anything that would rise to the high standards we had set for inclusion in the anthology.

Praise for Here I Am
"A bedside gem."


"State of the Art in collections of Jewish stories...chock-filled with literary delights."


"Premier collection of contemporary Jewish short stories from around the world. Includes many authors never before published in English. A must-have for all collections."


"Congratulations to the editors. Once in a while, not often...a reader comes across a compilation that literally vibrates with intensity."


Here I Am is available from The Jewish Publication Society or Amazon.com.

 

THE PERSISTENCE OF DESIRE

The Persistence of Desire, a novel, consists of two mythic stories in one: the drive for success and the pursuit of the American Dream at a critical juncture in American history, and the chronicle of the Levine family, narrated by the younger daughter, Pru. Intelligent and unsentimental, Pru grows to maturity under the shadow of World War II, her parents' turbulent marriage, and the restless wandering that sends her family traveling across the country. Her mother, Leilah, is a passionate and ambitious woman who brilliantly attempts to build a presence outside the home and to have a career, while her father Maurie, pursues his own dream of success by selling a new invention, television, which he claims will transform American life. Joan, Pru's beautiful older sister, hopes that she will never be ordinary, and tragically, receives her wish. In an ironic parallel to the story of the Levine's assimilation into American society, and one that is not lost on Pru, at the same time, all over Europe, her cousins, aunts, and uncles are being brutally hunted down and murdered.

My father still believed in the goodness of people. He could not understand malice. He did not grasp the light bantering of American life, the deep darkness that lay beneath the surface. He had come to this country too late to feel that he truly belonged. Nor was he athletic, able to meet other men on the playing fields and enjoy the easy comaraderie they took for granted.

"They're just jealous," I had heard my mother say. "People who would rather stay in the same old ordinary rut."Ordinary was a word my mother used a lot. She was always looking for excitement, for something larger than life.

We'd lived in a lot of houses, none of them ours. My mother said that we were in and out of those places like streaks of lightning. We always left just as the sun was falling, as if we had something to hide, setting out in dusk when people had pulled the curtains and gone inside.

I stood next to my mother in the middle of the room, gazing at the peeling, dirty walls, listening to our voices echoing eerily in that vacant space. It was a hollow cavity, the way my mouth felt when I had lost a tooth. Our bodies, which loomed both larger and smaller than usual, depending upon where we stood, looked strangely out of proportion without the familiar contours of the furniture that had given us dimension. A few minutes before, my mother had been down on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor while my father tried to rush her along, her face turning red with rage and exertion, lipsticked mouth set in a thin, tight line, telling him, "I have never left a dirty house, Morris Levine, and I'm not going to start now."

It was a ritual before she moved on, a process of cleansing herself. When she was finished she stood up and looked around, lips still pressed together. It was like slipping on other people's lives in those houses. It was hard to know who you were. And now here was another place emptied, another house that we had used up before we passed it on to someone else-strangers who would come to take our place.

Mom took out a cigarette and lit it, standing quietly for a moment before she drew herself up to her full height: tall, slender, striking. And then with a defiant toss of her head she said lustily, "Well, good-bye and good riddance to another dump!" She reminded me of the way Delilah must have looked when she forsook Samson. My mother's name was not Delilah, though, but Leilah. My older sister Joan often called her that, just as she called our father Maurie.

Leilah and Maurie. They were different from the parents of the children we knew in those towns. Leilah said it herself, "We are not like other parents," even though I wanted them to be. They quarreled violently. My father was buoyant and optimistic; my mother always expected the worst. If he was extravagant and easygoing, she was always afraid she was going to be taken advantage of, reckless and passionate in contrast to my father's steady thoughtfulness. In time it became a secret tug between the two of them. Yet they had something in common, too; they were both in pursuit of their dreams in the larger embrace of America, in flight from the past, eager to forget where they came from.