The Arty Semite

A Jewish Fiction Reading List

By Michael Lavigne

Earlier this week, Michael Lavigne wrote about writing the “Radical Other” and wondered if a writer can take the ego out of writing. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


A couple of years ago I decided to lead a group of adult learners in a class on Jewish fiction. The reason was that I wanted to share a few books I loved, and I also wanted an excuse to read some I’d never got around to. It was an amazing experience, both as a teacher and as a reader.

Re-reading some favorites — like Bruno Schulz, Primo Levi and Meir Shalev — only served to deepen my attachment to them. But the writers I’d wanted to get to know — like Clarice Lispector and Joseph Roth — were a revelation.

Two or three really stand out in that category. Lispector for certain — nothing in literature is quite like her, and I urge you to read through twice before you judge. But it was Roman Gary who won my heart with his incomparable character Momo — the little Arab kid adopted by the Jewish Rosa — in a work that is simply perfection, there is no other word for it.

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I Am Writer. Are You Chopped Liver?

By Michael Lavigne

Earlier this week, Michael Lavigne wrote about writing the “Radical Other.” His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Is it possible to take the ego out of writing?

I ask this question because I ask myself why I write, and why so many people write, and why writing has quite literally taken over our society — you cannot blink without someone Tweeting, Tumbling, Facebooking, blogging, Yelping, product rating, movie reviewing, book eviscerating. Just think about the last time you wanted to buy a toaster. You went on Amazon or some other site, and there, for each of the two hundred different toasters were two hundred individual comments, some many paragraphs long, by people apparently passionate enough about their toasters to write about them, and people, like me, stupid enough to read them and have them sway my judgment. (In the end, and based on countless reviews, I ended up with a toaster I hate — Calphalon 4-slot model 1779207, two stars at most!)

But were these people passionate about their toasters or simply passionate about the fact that someone might read their opinions? Are we Tweeting to say something important or to simply assert our existence?

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Writing the Radical Other

By Michael Lavigne

Michael Lavigne’s first novel, “Not Me,” was the recipient of the Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award. His newest novel, “The Wanting,” will be published by Schocken Books on February 26. Win a free copy of “The Wanting” here, visit Michael on Facebook, and visit his official website here. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In my first novel, I wrote from the point of view of a Nazi. In my new novel, “The Wanting,” I’ve taken on the persona of a suicide bomber from a village outside of Bethlehem. And while this character, Amir, is only one of three distinct voices in the book, his was the most painful to write and the most difficult to come to terms with. On the one hand, he murders scores of people — unconscionable and terrifying. On the other, he is also a person, not a monster. It is that person within him I was trying to access in my writing — but did I succeed? And should I have even tried?

My friend and fellow writer Jonathan Rosen (“Joy Comes in the Morning,” “The Life of the Skies”) has some doubts on this score. He wondered if I had created a moral equivalency between the victim (in this case the Russian Jewish immigrant, Roman Guttman) and the victimizer (Amir). I hope Jonathan won’t mind if I quote from his email:

…my fear [is] that Jewish imaginative sympathy sometimes runs the risk of secretly being narcissism disguised as empathy, as we project the better angels of our nature outward in the name of human understanding and then have a dialogue with ourselves. German Jews did it with Germans, as Gershom Scholem argued so persuasively about Buber — I and Thou is sometimes Me and Me.

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