This December marks the 50th anniversary of S.Y. Agnon’s receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first and only Hebrew writer to receive the illustrious prize.(The New Yorker just released a fascinating article entitled Israel’s Founding Novelist by Adam Kirsch.)
In honor of this milestone anniversary, The S.Y. Agnon Library at The Toby Press (Koren’s sister imprint) has released the first English translation of Agnon’s final, posthumous novel entitled In Mr. Lublin’s Store.
Set in Leipzig during World War I, In Mr. Lublin’s Store is a profound commentary on assimilation and faith, Germans and Jews, and the pull that the past exercises on the present. It is the 13th volume in the S.Y. Agnon Library.
Agnon, born in the Galician town of Buczacz (part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; in today’s Ukraine) as Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes, arrived in Ottoman Palestine in 1908, where he adopted the penname Agnon and began a meteoric rise as a young writer. He is known for his short stories, novellas and novels, written in a variety of styles. He is most widely recognized for his ironic depiction of the old world of European Jewish life, and his rich Hebrew prose, drawing on the classics of Hebrew literature.
His works deal with the conflict between traditional Jewish life, language and the modern world, and constitute a distillation of millennia of Jewish writing – from the Bible through the Rabbinic codes to Hasidic storytelling – recast into the mold of modern literature.
Rich with allusions to Talmud, Midrash, Bible and Hasidic tales, Agnon’s Hebrew is known to be intricate, highly sophisticated, and often difficult to access even for native Hebrew speakers. Therefore, the English translations by The Toby Press – some published for the very first time – open a window into Agnon’s world for English readers, allowing them to appreciate the richness in Agnon’s wide repertoire of writings.
“We hope that these new translations will inspire a new generation of readers to discover the beauty of Israel’s most beloved writer, S.Y. Agnon,” says Toby Press publisher Matthew Miller.
While some of Agnon’s works have been translated in the past by other publishers, Toby Press’s new series is the fullest collection of Agnon’s works in English. Each volume also includes new content such as a revised translation, foreword, and illustrated annotations that have been written by world-renowned scholars in Hebrew literature.
“I have been captivated by Agnon’s writings since I was a teenager,” says series editor and Agnon scholar Jeffrey Saks. “To bring his literary works to the public awareness, especially as we celebrate fifty years since his Nobel Prize, is a dream come true,” he muses.
Back in 1966, when Agnon was presented the Nobel Prize, Ingvar Andersson of the Swedish Academy remarked:
“Your great chronicle of the Jewish people’s spirit and life has therefore a manifold message. For the historian it is a precious source, for the philosopher an inspiration, for those who cannot live without literature it is a mine of never-failing riches.”
This December marks a truly unique opportunity to discover the rich world of Israel’s most celebrated novelists. See www.tobypress.com for more information.
Agnon died in 1970. He is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Praise for The Toby Press S.Y. Agnon Library
Hebrew literature did not arise in a vacuum. The S.Y. Agnon Library – Toby Press’s important translation project – helps readers in English, and indirectly us Hebrew readers as well, to connect more deeply with Agnon’s writing, with the modern Israeli literary experience, and the sources from which those traditions sprang.
Reading the great Hebrew writer in Toby Press’ translation to English, 50 years after his Nobel prize, brings his layered simplicity to a new and deserving audience… Agnon’s ironic play with Jewish and non-Jewish sources isn’t just a major element of Agnon’s fiction. To a large extent, it is his fiction. But is there any way for non-Hebrew readers to appreciate it? As the astonishing translated collection of Agnon’s works recently released by the heroic Toby Press demonstrates, the answer is yes.
—Dara Horn, Tablet Magazine