The “Jewishness” of recent American fiction has already been well explored. But discussion of the work of Jewish writers tends to be retrospective: it leads back to the shtetl and the shlemiel without considering how “Americanised” Jewish forms and themes have become. Clearly, recent authors such as Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow are indebted to a fund of “Jewish experience”. But their novels are “American”, far more concerned with twentieth-century urban problems than with the enclosed life of the traditional Jewish community. This essay therefore attempts to assess how far “Jewish” localised material has been translated into specifically “American” terms.
Jonathan Raban read English at the University of Hull and then did research in the Department of American Studies there. Taught American Literature at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, (where this essay was written) and is now on the staff of the University of East Anglia. Currently working on a study of Jewish-American novelists and on a textbook on the practical criticism of fiction.