Pariah Lives: Modern Jewish Fiction and Autobiography


In the late-18th century, Jewish authors began to emerge from the ghetto and grapple openly with the challenges of modernity through genres like fiction and autobiography. Some, like Solomon Maimon, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and Sholem Aleichem (whose short stories formed the basis of the play Fiddler on the Roof), achieved universal acclaim. But the path of the modern Jewish writer was rarely smooth. It usually entailed alienation and rebellion against the Jewish tradition; bouts of nostalgia, longing, and regret; and rejection by non-Jewish societies that were generating increasingly virulent forms of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust. Despite the ambivalence, tension, and anguish that runs through their writings, we will discover works of great beauty and poignancy that yield profound insights into the modern experience. Throughout the course, we interweave modern works of fiction and autobiographies by Jewish men and women whose outsider, “pariah,” status gave them a unique perspective on the world.