Irving Howe (1920–1993) was an American literary and social critic. His history of Eastern-European Jews in America, World of Our Fathers, won the 1977 National Book Award in History.

An Appeal

To our Governments and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations The world must take action to bring the war in former Yugoslavia to an end. Two and a half million people have been driven from their homes in a program of “ethnic cleansing.” Thousands of civilians have been massacred.

From Rebel to Bureaucrat

In 1903, at the age of sixteen, in an obscure Lithuanian shtetl, Sidney Hillman, the son of poor, Yiddish-speaking parents, joined the Bund, the Jewish socialist movement of Russia and Poland, taking as a first assignment the smuggling of his local group’s hectograph from one hiding place to another. Some …

Notes from Jerusalem

In the late Thirties I used to read about travelers to Berlin and Moscow who reported that the streets were quiet, all was orderly, they saw no signs of terror. I thought at the time that they were lying, but of course I was wrong. In the streets of Berlin …

News from Elsewhere

Anton Shammas is a Christian Arab born in the Galilee who has written his first novel in Hebrew. Defining himself not just legally but also culturally as an Israeli, he has said that the book is his “real identity card”—though a careful reading of Arabesques may persuade one that this …

Justice for Leskov

A storyteller is very different from someone who writes a lot of stories. A storyteller celebrates that “gusto in art” which, according to Hazlitt, is “the power or passion to define an object”—that active pleasure in composition, a kind of conquering, which the story conveys and the audience is trained …

Absalom in Israel

So many secret disappointments and betrayed visions accumulate over the years and bear down upon the consciousness of people who may not even know the source of their dismay. In the culture of Israel, this burden is perhaps the very idea of Israel itself, as if people—at least, some people—were …

How to Write About the Holocaust

There are writers, a few of them, who stir an immediate personal response. You need only read a few of their pages and you know right off that an unspoken, subterranean kinship will blossom. Usually it’s not the writers’ opinions or subjects that really grip you, it’s the tone of …

In the American Grain

One reason Marxist historical writing often—not, of course, always—turns out to be dry and pedantic is that the Marxist mind finds itself drawn, with an almost punitive willfulness, to such abstractions as “social forces,” “political positions,” and “relations of production.” Before these formidable categories, the actual figures of history tend …

No Exit

“There is no example, no inspiration. It is night. A night of indifference, apathy, chaos.” So speaks a character in A Minor Apocalypse, first published in Poland four years ago; so might speak a character in almost any other novel coming out of Eastern Europe. Despair is built into the …

Mission from Japan

As the merest beginner and very much a latecomer, I started recently to look into Japanese fiction. What I can report is fragmentary, a record of uncertainties, confusions, and probable mistakes such as many Western readers are likely to share upon encountering Japanese fiction. My first response was a shock …

Breaking Away

This enormous and awesomely priced book is a portrait of that phase of modern Jewish life in which its major secular creeds—nationalism, socialism, and numerous mixtures of the two—were first articulated. Jonathan Frankel, professor of history at the Hebrew University, belongs to a generation of young Jewish scholars who, in …

The Boss

Simply as a piece of writing, this little book is a big mess. There is no clear thematic development, there are no discernible divisions of subject among the chapters, and there are a good many sentences that don’t make sense. Djilas’s publisher would have done him a service by returning …

Beyond Bitterness

The strength of these stories derives, first of all, from a refusal to blink at the finality of waste. Varlam Shalamov, now seventy-three, said to be living in Moscow, spent seventeen years in the forced labor camps of Kolyma, and his life was shattered by this ordeal. In stories that …

Last Exit to LA

What strikes one first of all about Daniel Fuchs’s novels and stories, especially if they’re compared to the work of other “Jewish American” writers, is that Fuchs has no designs on his readers. No large thoughts, no postcards to deaf intellectuals, no theories about the future of the novel, not …

Ragged Individualist

The main thing wrong with The Last Romantic is that Mr. O’Neill can’t tell a story. Here is his opening sentence: “Max Eastman was not Jewish, despite his name, Jewish first wife, radical enthusiasms, and graduate training at Columbia University.” An array of tonal, historical, and moral gaucheries marches forth, …

Some Romance!

A good subject with large possibilities—what more can a writer ask for? Vivian Gornick has found such a subject in turning back to the experience of those thousands of Americans who passed through the Communist Party. She interviews a number of old-timers, taking down their words with syntactical improvements, and …

What Trotsky Thought

Only an old maestro of the potboiler like Robert Payne, author of more than one hundred books, would dare publish a biography of a figure like Trotsky without undertaking a serious discussion of his political ideas. This is Robert Payne’s accomplishment, and while by no means unique, it is notable.