Richard Elman Frederic Morton - Essay

Frederic Morton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] first few pages of "The Reckoning" convinced me that in Mr. Elman we have a born biographer of the bourgeois animal.

Significantly, his Newman Yagodah is a father, not a son, not an American but a European. I could almost say "naturally a European," because there's never been a true American bourgeoisie. (p. 5)

He makes a very moving character, this sinner in search of meaning, disclosing (beyond his place or time), the decay of a value system. Mr. Elman has textured his mind beautifully….

Toward the end of the book, it becomes plain that Yagodah and his family are destined for the gas oven. Yagodah can't absorb the prospect. What troubles me is that whenever Yagodah glimpses his fate, his humanity vanishes. Relatives, friends, enemies and lovers live richly in his journal. But the executioners, when they arrive, never emerge from behind a personal pronoun. "Already they are placing armed guards around the houses of some of our neighbors…." That is all we see or hear of them, and the reverberations they cause in an otherwise vital mind are curiously mechanical.

Strange Yagodah's middling triumphs and modest sins are wonderfully alive. His great agony remains abstract. It's like Eichmann in reverse. An ordinary burgher, a semi-intellectual, career-minded, "normal" and perfectly comprehensible until the moment of his collision with history. In Eichmann we must...

(The entire section is 402 words.)