Richard Elman Victor Burg - Essay

Victor Burg

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] conflict and disparity between word and thought, law and action, private concern and historical force, forms "The Reckoning" of Newman Yagodah.

He is a Hungarian Jew in his midforties as World War II is ending…. [He] is a moralist who sees the prospect of his death as making a parable of choices of his life….

But as the fact of his place in history begins to threaten these trappings in his life the moral issues start to acquire a life, too, as the people around him begin to be real to him in his mind and diary as well as in their demands….

A moralist unable to act morally confronts an absence.

This peculiar balance is a remarkable quality in this novel—that Mr. Elman may see the certain horror of Yagodah's death and the living death which was his life. The book is terse and faulted for its initial coldness, its lack of humor, its smallness in certain realistic respects. It is certainly the record, however, of such a life. It is striking as a whole, and within its historical context, far exceeds the potential banality of its immediate circumstances. The faults of Newman come to be the faults of the work of art in which he lives, but criticism of his lack of size must be directed elsewhere than against this good book.

Victor Burg, "A Diary—and a Book of Judgment," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1969 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), October 9, 1969, p. 13.