By Inna Rogatchi, Times of Israel—-
Genius & Anxiety. How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947 by NORMAN LEBRECHT, Oneworld, 2019, 442 pages.
This book is a joy. Concise, vivid, well-written, in clear antithesis to banality, it is a fine journey throughout most eventful century of modern history viewed in original detail. It also vividly portrays many outstanding personalities in thoughtful and penetrating way.
Anyone who is aware with Norman Lebrecht’s name would not be surprised on the quality of his new book. Norman is the author of Why Mahler? ( 2010), in my view, the best book on cultural history in decades.
Lebrecht who is writing currently his fourth novel, did impress public and film industry professionals with his first one, The Song of Names ( 2002). It took quite a span of time to materialise on the screen, but the story on two Jewish boys, music and Holocaust had been premiered recently at the film festivals in Toronto and London and is due to be released in the end of December in the USA and later on in Europe. The film is directed by Francois Girard, the author of unforgettable The Red Violin (1998) and many other interesting music-connected creations, with Tim Roth and Clive Owen starring there.
Being one of the most prominent music critics and writers in the UK, Lebrecht is deservingly well-known to anyone who reads on music.
Lebrecht’s style in his books is distinctive. In the same pattern as Benjamin Balint ( see my review on his Kafka’s Last Trial here) possesses a rare ability of a powerful Jewish mind to be richly laconic, to see and to address the things most essential, without losing anything important. His prose is concentrated, and he maintains steady rhythm throughout his narrative. It is a hard work, as any practising writer knows. I was not surprised to hear from Norman that he ‘had the introduction ( to the book) to be re-written at least 100 times until I was satisfied with it’.
Reading Lebrecht’s prose in Genius and Anxiety, one not only enjoys the wealth of interesting facts and people, but is also delighted to be treated with many of his aphoristic pearls:”Mendelssohn might have ceased to be a Jew, but he can never compose like a goy”; “Freud, had he known these ( Karl Marx on his mother-IR) letters, would have had an Oedipus field day”; “can anyone but Brod imagine Franz Kafka in khaki shorts, laying bricks on a Tel Aviv housing estate or ( Kafka’s preferred option) carrying a tray as a waiter in a seaside cafe? Like so much else in Kafka, the self-image is simply surreal”, and many more delights of the kind. Continue Reading….