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Book Review: Buckland author shines spotlight on Jewish writers in ‘A Hundred Acres of America’

  • “A Hundred Acres of America”

  • WEISBLAT



For the Recorder
Wednesday, January 09, 2019

In my ordinary day-to-day reading, I would probably never have come across “A Hundred Acres of America.” It’s an academic work in its language and intent — and I am no longer a very academic person.

I was happy to be assigned to write about the book, however. It has made me think more than any other volume I have read recently.

The author is Michael Hoberman of Buckland, who teaches English at Fitchburg State University. Hoberman writes about fiction (and a little nonfiction) by Jewish authors from the 19th to the 21st centuries that deal with a sense of place, and with America as a place in particular.

He notes that Jewish writers have not traditionally been associated with the American landscape. Nevertheless, he argues, “Writing about places has allowed Jewish American writers to engage, challenge, and revise the evolving motifs and themes that have shaped American literature at large.”

Many of the authors he discusses were unfamiliar to me before I read his book, particularly those he examines from the 19th century. In one case, I didn’t realize that an author I was familiar with (Edna Ferber, creator of such sweeping sagas as “Show Boat” and “Giant”) was Jewish.

In every case, he reveals enough about the author’s work to illustrate his points and to make readers want to read more of that person’s writings.

The book discusses a variety of places important to Americans, including the evolving West of the 19th century, the small towns of the Midwest and 20th-century suburbia. It ends with a landscape that has been significant to the Jewish people for thousands of years: Israel.

The book suggests that the works it examines ask questions that aren’t easy to answer — but then asking hard questions is a sign of good literature.

Some of these questions include what it means for Jewish Americans to be an immigrant group with a homeland that, for most, no longer exists, and how Jewish Americans can retain their historical status as an ethnic minority group when many of them have now achieved great economic success in this country.

The book resonated with me in particular because it made me ponder my own relationship to American literature and the American landscape, and that of my Jewish father. Like the authors Hoberman describes, my father believed that his ethnicity helped him see our culture from the inside and the outside simultaneously.

That insider/outsider identity may have occasionally created problems for my father and for the authors Hoberman discusses. It has made individuals and American society richer, however.

Hoberman will discuss “A Hundred Acres of America,” answer questions and sell/sign copies of the book at Temple Israel in Greenfield on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m., with a snow date of Feb. 9.

He will also talk about the book and sign copies on Tuesday, March 5, at 6 p.m. at the Buckland Public Library.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.