ENGLISH 383 - Jewish Literature
Fall 2021, Section 001 - American Jewish Fiction of the 21st Century (Mostly)
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May not be repeated for credit.
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What does an American Jewish novelist write about in the wake of the Nazis?

Well, about the legacy of the past—sometimes that past (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, 2002) and what lies both after it and before it, even far before it (Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book, 2008). But also about America’s own past, whether real (E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, 1975) or imagined (Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, 2007), with special attention to race (Philip Roth, The Human Stain, 2000).

An important aim of the course is thus to confound expectations based on group identity, to broaden our sense of what it means to write within an ethnic, religious, or, really, any other tradition. If you think you know what a Jewish novel, or an American Jewish novel, is, one purpose of this course is to convince you that perhaps you do not. And in order to increase our sense of the range of possibilities, we’ll begin shortly after 1900, in Central Europe, with a brief look at the most influential writer of fiction of the 20th century, Franz Kafka, who also happened to be Jewish.

Accordingly, we’ll study these sometimes intense, often wildly funny, and always engrossing novels of the last 45 years with an eye partly on their shared features but especially on their variety. Since 1945, important writers of Jewish descent, some of them Nobel Laureates, have composed literature on all six significantly inhabited continents in more than 15 languages in over two dozen countries—often far from traditional centers of Jewish culture, achievement, or mistreatment.

We’ll read novels that range from those profoundly concerned with Jewish experience to those that accord it only peripheral status: most of the protagonists of these novels are not Jewish. The issues we’ll consider—exile, emigration, and assimilation; race, gender, and sexuality; religious and ethnic identity; historical memory; national and international politics; social justice—are relevant to other groups. So, too, are the specifically literary concerns—notably, with postmodernism.

Course Requirements:

Requirements: 3 short papers and a brief oral presentation; no final exam.


ENGLISH 383 - Jewish Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM

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