The Gentile Who Mistook Himself for a Jew

  • David Brauner


Every man is a Jew though he may not know it. (Bernard Malamud in Lasher 1991: 30)


Jewish Identity Nazi Regime Evil Nature Puerto Rican Woman Evil Personality 
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  1. 2.
    L.S. Dembo, in his study The Monological Jew (1988), argues that ‘Sartre’s position on Jewish authenticity is indefensible; it is so because he ignores the positive values and ideals associated with Judaism in general and with the Jew’s vision of himself’, and that ‘The term “Inauthentic Jew,” insofar as it is normative as well as descriptive, carries an opprobrium with it that leads to caricature rather than realistic portrayal’ (Dembo 1988: 21, 25). Susan Suleiman, in her essay ‘The Jew in Sartre’s Reflexions sur la question juive: An Exercise in Historical Reading’, takes a more balanced view, arguing that the first section of Sartre’s book is, as Sartre himself later described it, an effective ‘declaration of war against anti-Semites’ (Sartre quoted in Suleiman 1995: 201), but that in the final section of the book he ‘thinks he is defending the Jew against the anti-Semite’s myth, but actually reinforces the myth’ (214).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    In addition to those I discuss here, there have been two notable recent examples: the hero of Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain (2000), who is a black man who passes himself off as a Jew, and the protagonist of Nathan Englander’s short story, ‘The Gil gul of Park Avenue’, a WASP who suddenly and inexplicably becomes convinced that ‘he was the bearer of a Jewish soul’ (Englander 1999: 109).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    In using the term subgenre I do not wish to imply either that the authors of these works are consciously locating themselves within an established tradition of Jewish writing (there is no evidence that any of these novels have been directly influenced by any of the others) or that there has been any critical recognition of the affinities between them. As far as I am aware, only Robert Alter, in a brief passage in an essay entitled ‘Sentimentalizing the Jews’ has written on what he calls ‘the motif of conversion or quasi-conversion’ (Alter 1969: 42). The novels Alter refers to are The Assistant, Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Children at the Gate (1964) and Jerome Charyn’s On the Darkening Green (1965).Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    With the exception of the Babel Guide to Jewish Fiction, in which there is an entry for Eve’s Tattoo (Keenoy and Brown 1998: 143–6).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Penny Perrick, writing in the Sunday Times (1992: 4) and Paul Taylor, in the Independent on Sunday (1992: 5), respectively. Joanna Briscoe, who interviewed Prager for The Guardian, seemed to assume that she wasn’t Jewish, when she wrote that ‘Prager’s act in writing the novel is the equivalent of her heroine’s tattoo’ (1992: 6). In her interview with Kate Pullinger in the Daily Telegraph the truth about Prager’s ethnicity emerged: ‘Contained within my body are these two different things [her father’s Jewishness and mother’s Christianity]’ (1992: 28). Pullinger comments, mystifyingly, that ‘this internal struggle has forced her to consider both Christian antiSemitic hatred and Jewish anti-Christian bigotry’ (1992: 28), as though the two were comparable.Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    See Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life (1999) for a discussion of this phenomenon.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Brauner 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Brauner
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ReadingUK

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