Although translations of these twenty-five stories by the winner of the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature have been available for some time, editors Alan Mintz and Anne Golomb Hoffman have performed a number of valuable editing tasks that make Agnon’s work more accessible to Western readers.
The six sections of the book have a helpful autobiographical and geographical shape that charts Agnon’s career from his youth in Poland, to his first journey to Israel, to his extended stay in Germany, and finally to his return to Jerusalem, thus providing a unified focus on Agnon’s central themes of the artist’s gradual discovery of self and his cultural milieu. Each section is prefaced with an introduction that not only supplies a rationale for the groupings but also summarizes previous criticism and discussion of the stories. The editors have also provided copious notes to Jewish references in the stories and a generous glossary of frequently recurring terms from Jewish life.
The collection opens with the signature story “Agunot,” patterned after a rabbinical expansion of a biblical text; moves on to “The Kerchief,” a well-known bar-mitzvah story, in which the transition age of thirteen is echoed in the story’s thirteen sections; and then shifts to such stories as “Hill of Sand” and the title story, “A Book That Was Lost,” which focus on the writer’s efforts to come to terms with self, community, art, and the past.
Not merely a random assortment, this collection provides a unified portrait of one of the most influential geniuses of modern Hebrew literature.