I have an idea that this tiny novel – and it is a multi-faceted true novel rather than a long short-story – will come to be seen as one of its distinguished author’s key works. In it the master theme of Bellow’s entire oeuvre, perhaps for the first time, surfaces openly. This theme, implicit in many of the novelist’s larger-scale works such as Mr Sammler’s Planet, Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March, can be expressed as the question: Can Judaism, in anything like its classic form, survive in America?
At first consideration it seems absurd even to admit the possibility of a negative answer. Since the start of those extensive migrations known as the Diaspora the Jews have triumphantly kept their culture and faith inviolate throughout the most testing of times and in the most unlikely of places. There are pockets of orthodox Jews in China and India and Black Jews in Ethiopia.