Sunday, March 19, 2017

Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem by Prochnik, George, Other Press


This is an intriguing if sometimes difficult dual-track biography of the author and the Jewish writer, philosopher, and mystic Gershom Scholem. Like Scholem, Prochnik (The Impossible Exile, 2014) has repeatedly been engaged in an intellectual and spiritual quest, searching for a balance between the physical and the ethereal and touching on the nature of Jewish identity. Prochnik alternates between his own experiences living in Israel in the 1990s and Scholem’s life and intellectual evolution in the emerging Zionist state. Along with his deep emotional attachment to Israel, Prochnik was troubled by the dehumanizing aspects of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Scholem, born in Berlin, was a cultural rather than a political Zionist. He hoped for a binational state in Palestine, an idealistic aspiration frustrated by both Jewish and Arab nationalism. Prochnik also delves into Scholem’s efforts to interpret elements of Jewish mysticism and his relationship with critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. The narrative shifts can be confusing, but this is a stimulating examination of the struggles of both men to reconcile their idealism with reality.

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