Stranger in a Strange Land | Granta

  • Published: 02/08/2018
  • ISBN: 9781783781805
  • 129x20mm
  • 528 pages

Stranger in a Strange Land

George Prochnik

Gershom Scholem, the great humanist thinker and founder of modern Kabalah, is all but forgotten today. But here, in a biography as daring and inquisitive as its subject, George Prochnik goes in search of Scholem, restoring the reputation of a vital intellectual and finding in his work a vision with the power to reinvigorate contemporary religious and political thought.

Tracing Scholem’s life from his upbringing in Berlin, where he experienced a close and transformative friendship with Walter Benjamin, Prochnik reveals how Scholem’s frustration with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during WWI led him to discover mystic Judaism, Kabbalah, and, finally, Zionism. But having emigrated to what was to become Israel, Scholem again found himself a ‘stranger in a strange land’, ill at ease with a prevailing conservative form of Zionism.

Prochnik follows Scholem to the modern Holy Land – only to find that he too is disillusioned by the state politics he encounters. But through his profound study of Scholem and his own experience of Jerusalem, Prochnik not only questions the ideological and religious constructs of Jerusalem, but finds an ethical way forward, showing how a new form of pluralism might energize Jewish thought.

George Prochnik blends history, philosophy, and memoir with exemplary panache in this fascinating account of an intellectual and spiritual journey. But he never loses sight of the essential questions: How are we to live? And in what kind of world?

Pankaj Mishra

What a wonderful book this is: gripping, illuminating, beautifully constructed, and full of the communicative energy that comes from things long in gestation but written with fire and speed... The extraordinary affinities between author and subject give the book an emotional intensity that complements its erudition and lends power to its final, audacious, inspiring claim on the reader's capacity for hope

James Lasdun

The Author

George Prochnik‘s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is the author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (2014), In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010), and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). His book Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem is forthcoming with Granta Books. He lives in New York City.

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From the Same Author

The Impossible Exile

By the 1930s, Stefan Zweig, born to an affluent Jewish family in Vienna, had become the most widely translated living author in the world. His novels, short stories, and biographies became instant bestsellers, and his cultural patronage, his generosity, and his literary connections, were legendary. In 1934, following Hitler’s rise to power, Zweig left Vienna for England, then New York, and, finally, Petrópolis, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. With the destruction of the cultural milieu of pre-Nazi Europe, Zweig’s life in exile became increasingly isolated. In 1942 he and his wife, Lotte Altmann, were found dead. They had committed suicide, just after Zweig had completed his famous autobiography, The World of Yesterday.

The Impossible Exile tells the mesmerizing and tragic story of Zweig’s extraordinary rise and fall, the gulf between the world of ideas in Europe and in America, and the alienation of the refugees forced into exile. Zweig embodied and witnessed the end of an era: the great Central European civilization of Vienna and Berlin.