The appearance in translation of a novel by a Nobel Laureate is cause for rejoicing, even when it sits less comfortably in English than in the original Hebrew. A story of a marriage, it takes place in Szybusz, a fictional town in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Blume Nacht, after her mother's death, becomes a servant in the house of cousins, whose son Hirshl falls in love with her. Blume, beautiful and almost superhumanly capable, repudiates Hirshl, a bit of a simpleton. He, when pressed by his substantial parents, slips bewilderedly into marriage with Mina, a heavily cologned boarding-school graduate. Blume meanwhile moves to another household and is rarely seen again, leaving the reader's expectations unfulfilled. Hirshl's too, for she is ever-present in his heart, stunting his sexual relationship with Mina and driving him from melancholy to madness. That he recovers, returns to his wife, and begins to find in what had been an emptyheaded, passive girl robust sensuality and social understanding, seems to reflect his emerging maturity and acceptance of the bourgeois solidity represented by his parents and the town itself. Agnon's achievement is to have combined gentle mockery of the myriad characters he brings so engagingly to life with staunch championing of values and customs that were soon to be doomed. His scholarship and literary astuteness inform a story that is at once rich in biblical allusion and redolent of the society in which he was raised. December
Nobel Laureate Agnon died in 1970 with several works not translated into English; it is good to have now this readable and entertaining Simple Story published originally in 1935. Blume Nacht, newly orphaned, goes to the town of Szybusz to live with her Aunt Tsirl and Uncle Boruch Hurvitz, shop owners there, and their son Hirshl. Blume and Hirshl fall in love, but Tsirl has other plans for her Hirshl. She meets with the matchmaker, and soon Hirshl finds himself beneath the wed ding canopy with Mina Ziemlich, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, though he stills pines away for sweet Blume. Before very long, Hirshl and Mina have a child, and with a twist of Old World simplicity, they live happily ever after. What becomes of Blume? That, the au thor teasingly tells us, would fill anoth er book (one he never got to write, alas). Highly recommended for general collections. Marcia G. Fuchs, Guil ford Free Lib., Ct.
''A Simple Story,'' conforms to the European realistic novel of the 19th century.... The protagonist, Hirshl Hurvitz, the only son of prosperous shopkeepers, is forced to renounce his inarticulate, vaguely incestuous passion for his poor cousin Blume Nacht (''she was almost his twin''), and to accept an arranged marriage with the daughter of wealthy farmers....Agnon's strategies of indirection are so slippery that in the end one is not quite sure how to take him....Agnon makes us painfully aware of the terrible price Hirshl pays for his final normality....In thematically opposing an impossible romantic longing and the material interests of bourgeois society, Agnon recalls Flaubert and other 19th-century models; a similarity also exists in their frequent use of an ironic free indirect style to lay bare the self-deceptions, mental evasions and hypocrisies of the principal characters. -- New York Times