TORONTO (Oct. 7)
A definitive edition of one of the most influential works of Canadian Jewish literature is slated to be reissued later this month.
“The Second Scroll,” by A.M. Klein, tells the story of a Montreal journalist who travels to Italy, Morocco and Israel after World War II in search of his uncle, a Holocaust survivor.
The uncle’s wanderings through Judaism, secularism, Bolshevism and Zionism are usually regarded as an allegory for the Jewish people’s travels.
Alfred A. Knopf originally published the book in 1951.
The new text contains more than 70 pages of notes to explain the novel’s allusions to everything from the Zohar, the classic text of the Kabbalah, to the English writer Milton.
One of Canada’s largest scholarly publishers, the University of Toronto Press, is offering the edition as the seventh in a series of eight volumes of works by the legendary Montreal poet, essayist and novelist, who died in 1972.
The series on Klein has included short stories, essays, collected poems and newspaper editorials that Klein wrote when he was the editor of the Canadian Jewish Chronicle. Klein was also a speechwriter for philanthropist Samuel Bronfman.
The final volume in the series, containing hitherto unpublished letters, is expected to be ready for publication in the next few years.
The Canadian literary critic Northrup Frye has described Klein’s novel as “one of the most passionate and intense of all Canadian novels.”
In form it resembles the Pentateuch, with five main books and a patchwork of canonical appendages.
Although often cited by Canadian Jewish writers as a major influence, Klein, who was born in Ukraine in 1909 and arrived in Montreal soon after, never achieved the level of popular fame of some Montreal Jewish writers who rose in his shadow, such as Mordecai Richler.
Norman Ravvin, a Canadian writer and specialist in Holocaust fiction, agrees that “The Second Scroll” is “an early breakthrough treatment” of the Holocaust in North American literature.
“He’s writing about the fallout for Jews and the Holocaust long before other writers are willing to try it,” says Ravvin. “He takes a religious tack, connecting the catastrophe with a declaration of the state of Israel, so there’s a kind of triumphant completion to the awful events of the war.”
The edition also contains selections from a previously published notebook that Klein kept of a 1949 journey he made to Europe, North Africa and Israel, and serves, in part, as a basis for the novel.
Many Canadian Jews feel an allegiance to “The Second Scroll” that borders on reverence. “If I was going to a desert island, for sure I’d take `The Second Scroll’ with me,” says Dr. Shel Krakofsky, a Canadian poet.