Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

In the Heart of the Seas


In the Heart of the Seas was a book I picked up pretty much because the cover was bright yellow and it’s publication date was 1948. I had never heard of Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Yet according to Wikipedia his was so famous during his later life that a complaint about traffic noise to his local city council had them close the road to all vehicles along his street.

This book centres around the man Hannaniah and his journey to The Land of Israel. Having travelled half the world to find a set of like minded travellers, Hannaniah teams up with two-dozen or so Jewish men and their wives and wagons them to the sea. Here they all get on a boat but because Hannaniah was busy doing a good deed he misses it. But it’s ok because eventually his fellow travellers discover that their recurring vision of a man sailing, seated cross legged on a handkerchief,  was actually Hannaiah speeding to Israel alongside them. And then – they all get where they’re going. Um…

For a winner of the Nobel prize for Literature, I was sure Agnon’s Seas would strike me immediately with his genius. Not so. In fact reading every rabbi’s full name and every description of the Land of Israel  and the origins of every pieces of Jewish folk lore and every (EVERY) prayer is – tedious. 128 pages should not take four weeks to finish. Where are the meticulous plot plans? The tragically human characters? The ingenious metaphors? The heroes and their victory or atrocious defeat? I was reading this to make me a better person, damn it! And then this on the final page:

Some will read my book as a man reads legends, while others will read it and derive benifit for theselves. With reagrd to the former I quote the words of the Book of Proverbs: ‘But a good word maketh the heart glad’; a good word maketh the soul rejoice and deliverieth from care. But of the latter I say in the words of the Psalmist: ‘But those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.’

Authors are very clever sometimes.

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