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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2016 > Portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis

Portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis

In Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel a writer rediscovers his Jewish identity, says Elaine Showalter

Here I Am

by Jonathan Safran Foer (Hamish Hamilton, £20)

The title of Jonathan Safran Foer’s third novel comes from the scene in Genesis when Abraham answers God’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac. “I am here,” he says. That declaration, Foer explains, means, “who we are, who we are wholly there for, and how that, more than anything else, defines our identity.” Even in extremity Abraham’s identity is clear, his obedience to God’s will absolute, and his allegiance to his faith transcendent.

Foer’s semi-autobiographical protagonist Jacob Bloch is not a man of faith; at the age of 42, he is a writer of a popular television series living a comfortable life in suburban Washington DC. Jacob is casually observant of Jewish rituals, holidays and customs, but very distant from the religious convictions of his great-grandfather Gershon who was the rabbi of Minsk, his grandfather Isaac who escaped the Holocaust and made it to Amerrize-winningica, and his father Irv who retains a passionate attachment to Israel and an urgent belief in the dangers of anti-Semitism (his mantra: “the world hates Jews.”) Irv Bloch accuses his “immensely talented, deeply feeling, profoundly intelligent” son of wasting his life on mere entertainment. “You should make something that befits your abilities, and expresses your definition of substance,” he reproaches Jacob. “You should forge in the smithy of your soul the uncreated conscience of your race.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.
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