Edward Lewis Wallant Award, for The Yemenite Girl; National Jewish Book Award nomination, for The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah; Rockefeller Foundation International fellowship; Jerusalem Foundation residency; four-time winner, New Jersey State Arts Council fellowship; Hadassh Literary Prize finalist, 2003.
(Editor and translator) King Artus: A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279, Ktav (New York, NY), 1969, new edition, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction) Masterpieces of Hebrew Literature: A Treasury of 2,000 Years of Jewish Creativity, Ktav (New York, NY), 1969.
The Yemenite Girl (novel), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1977, new edition, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1999.
Passion in the Desert (novel), Avon (New York, NY), 1980.
(Translator) Heszel Klepfisz, Culture of Compassion, Ktav (New York, NY), 1983.
(Translator and author of introduction) Sholom Aleichem, From the Fair: The Autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah (novel), Jewish Publishing Society, 1990.
(Editor and translator) Avraham Reisen, The Heart-stirring Sermon: And Other Stories, Overlook Press, 1992.
(Translator) Sholom Aleichem, The Song of Songs, illustrated by Devis Grebu, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Partita in Venice (novel), University of West Alabama/Livingston (Livingston, AL), 1999.
(Editor and translator) Sholom Aleichem, Happy New Year! and Other Stories, Dover (Mineola, NY), 2000.
(Translator) Isaac Bashevis Singer, More Stories from My Father's Court, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
Diary of an Adulterous Woman: Including an ABC Directory That Offers Alphabetical Tidbits and Surprises (novel), Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2001.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet, and, Weekend in Mustara: Two Novellas, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2002.
(Translator) Sholom Aleichem, My First Love Affair and Other Stories, illustrated by Arthur Zaidenberg, Dover (Mineola, NY), 2002.
(Translator, editor, and author of introduction) Eliezer Shtaynbarg, The Jewish Book of Fables: Selected Works, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, N.Y.), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Zoetrope, Chariton Review, and Writers' Forum.
Curt Leviant's original works and translations of numerous Yiddish texts have established him as a committed promoter of Jewish literature. King Artus: A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279, which Leviant edited and translated, brought wider attention to the fact that medieval Hebrew literature served as a bridge between Western and Eastern literature—in this case, a version of the Arthurian legend written in Hebrew via an Italian version of the story. Of Leviant's achievement, Morris Epstein wrote in Speculum, "Leviant has refurbished a rare and wonderful antique. He has built his edifice well—taking a clear stand on textual reading, putting his Hebraic erudition to fruitful use, and … dramatically lighting the way for further research."
Other important translations by Leviant include Heszel Klepfisz's Culture of Compassion and From the Fair: The Autobiography of Sholom Aleichem. Klepfisz's work is "an intellectual history of religious Jewish thought" before World War II, according to Jack Fischel in Present Tense. Focusing a great deal of attention on Polish Jewry, it serves as a valuable reminder to readers of just how much important Jewish culture was lost because of the Holocaust. From the Fair is actually a incomplete fictionalized biography of Rabinowitz, who was widely regarded as a "master of Yiddish literature," as one Publishers Weekly contributor wrote. "Leviant's introduction serves as a smooth entry into the world of Sholom Aleichem," according to Chaim Potok in the New York Times Book Review; "his translation captures the bounce and effervescence of Aleichem's Yiddish." Through these and other translations, many of works by Aleichem, Leviant has helped spread an appreciation for Yiddish literature and culture to an English-speaking audience.
Similar praise was meted out on Leviant's work as editor for Masterpieces of Hebrew Literature: A Treasury of 2,000 Years of Jewish Creativity, which collects postbiblical literature from Jewish centers of culture in North Africa, Babylonia, and Europe. Each excerpt of text is accompanied by useful commentary from the editor, who, according to Rosalind Shor in Library Journal, used "erudition and impeccable taste" to select works for this survey of literary works. Leviant also translated and edited The Heart-stirring Sermon: And Other Stories by Avraham Reisen.
Leviant has not limited himself to translating and promoting the works of other writers. He has also written several of his own novels, many of which have been praised by critics. The first of these, The Yemenite Girl, is a comparison of two Jewish literary men. One, Yehiel Bar-Nun, is a famous Israeli Nobel laureate, and the other, Ezra Shultish, is a middling talent pursuing an unremarkable teaching career in New York. Shultish greatly admires Bar-Nun, and his pursuit of the famous writer in Haifa in order to tape record him reading one of his stories, "The Yemenite Girl," is the central plot thread of the novel. However, Shultish is sidetracked when he meets a real Yemenite girl with whom he becomes infatuated. Although Shultish is the lead character here, Washington Post Book World contributor Bill Niederkorn commented that "it's the Nobel prizewinner who holds and sustains our interest." Indeed, reviewers praised the author's characterizations: Shultish as the sad and mediocre wannabe, and Bar-Nun as the charismatic author who seems annoyed by his loyal followers at the same time that he clearly needs them to stroke his ego. "The characters are wonderfully drawn," wrote a New Republic contributor, who lauded The Yemenite Girl's "delicate perceptions and … unobtrusive beauty."
Subtle observation also characterizes Leviant's Passion in the Desert, the tale of an American journalist who is doing research in the Sinai Peninsula to be used for his book about Israel. While there he meets a woman who reminds him of his high school flame. He is drawn to her, all the while feeling guilty because he is married. Although nothing ever comes of his infatuation, he is changed by the experience. Describing the novel as "dreamy and leisurely," Marcia R. Hoffman wrote in the Library Journal that "everyone remains faithful, but altered nonetheless." Stuart Lewis, writing in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, called Passion in the Desert "the most beautifully written novel by an American Jewish author since Henry Roth's Call It Sleep."
Leviant was nominated for the National Jewish Book Award for his next novel, The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah. It is a fictional reconstruction of the last year in the life of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the great-grandson of Baal Shem Tov, who was the founder of Hasidism. Rabbi Nachman was revered by his followers, and after his death in 1810 his office was never replaced by the Bratslaver Hasidim, who are consequently called the "Dead Hasidim." Ironically, in the novel Nachman sees himself as a sinner, and it is his lust for a young woman that, he believes, makes it suddenly impossible for him to read Hebrew scriptures. Struggling with his inner doubts, he travels to Vienna, where he meets Ludwig von Beethoven and learns about music. It is this education that partially cures him. He next travels to the Holy Land to continue his cure, all the while wondering whether the prophecy he thought he had received from God about his destiny to save the Jewish people could really be true. "So much of Nachman's life is suffused with mysticism," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "that fantasy seems an apt vehicle for truth. Spare, clean and poetic, Leviant's version of his story is brilliantly wrought." Similarly laudatory, New York Times Book Review contributor Howard Mittelmark noted: "Exquisitely written, Mr. Leviant's engaging exploration of the spirit will seduce and delight readers of any faith—or lack thereof."
Leviant's fourth novel, Partita in Venice, is set in Venice and centers on Thomas Manning, a middle-aged man torn between two loves: the first is a woman whom he has not seen for twenty-five years but who he long ago promised to meet again at a fountain on the Piazza San Marco, and the second is a younger woman he has just met. In the Jewish Standard, Rebecca Boroson called Partita in Venice "a stunning tour de force, a splendidly dizzying mix of words … a book for readers who appreciate exuberant intelligence and humor."
Leviant's next novel, Diary of an Adulterous Woman: Including an ABC Directory That Offers Alphabetical Tidbits and Surprises, is an unusual tale with a directory at the end that includes commentary and criticism. When combined, the effect is to suggest "that love and adultery are, among other things, language games," according to Irving Malin in Review of Contemporary Fiction. The story is told through three viewpoints by the participants of a love triangle, including old schoolmates Guido and Charlie and the woman they fall for, Aviva. Each person uses plays on words to evoke different meanings about intimacy and adultery. In addition to being a commentary on love, this character-driven novel also makes observations about the crisis of middle age with grand results, according to reviewers. Comparing the work to something that might have been produced by Milan Kundera had that author lived on Long Island, Philip Santo observed in Library Journal that the "alphabetical endnotes amplifies and occasionally revises the narrative." A contributor to Publishers Weekly wrote that "Leviant manages to pen an ingenious romantic farce in the tradition of Vargas Llosa's Notebooks of Don Rigoberto." Chauncey Mabe, of the Sun-Sentinel, called Leviant "a leading candidate for the title of best unknown American novelist."
In Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet, and, Weekend in Mustara: Two Novellas, the author tells the stories of scholars in foreign lands, ancient manuscripts, and Jewish history and folklore. "The Jewish mystical tradition comes to the fore in these two novellas," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor.
The first novella, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet" takes place in a Budapest that is still under Communist rule. Musicologist Dr. Isaac Gantz finds himself in the country to meet engineer Ferdinand Friedman, a strange man and Holocaust survivor who claims that he has a manuscript that is the Rosetta Stone for a musical interpretation of the Hebrew alphabet. The story, in which Jewish folklore, music, and history coalesce, follows the sparring between the two men as Friedman refuses to let the manuscript be publicized and Gantz learns that Friedman may be a fraud.
"Weekend in Mustara" takes place on a the fictional island of Mustara, somewhere in southern Europe. In this story, the narrator, named Leviant, is a scholar of medieval Hebrew manuscripts who comes to the island searching for anything he can find about the medieval Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi, who made his name during the Spanish Golden Age. The island of Mustara is inhabited by a few Jews who hold to their heritage via their only synagogue and a museum housing a book inscribed with the names of all the Mustara Jews martyred during World War II. In the course of the story, the narrator is approached by four Jewish sisters who try to sell him a rare clay pitcher that they pilfered. The narrator eventually finds himself in an unreal and absurd world featuring a trial and an execution.
"Leviant's processing of readers through these stories reveals a penchant for Zen-like narrative, a project of refocusing readers on the journey, rather than the arrival," noted Shofar contributor David A. Epstein. Patricia Laurence commented in the Review of Contemporary Fiction: "The energy and passion of … desire flashes in Leviant's scintillating language and imagery that emerges from his knowledge of Jewish culture and literature."
Leviant has continued to edit and translate the works of other writers and thinkers. He is translator of a collection of twenty-eight newspaper columns by Isaac Bashevis Singer titled More Stories from My Father's Court. "Leviant's translation renders Singer's prose in an appropriately contemporary vein," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of the collection. James Knudsen, writing in World Literature Today, commented: "Posthumous publications by esteemed literary figures often turn out to be major disappointments. Manuscripts that never should have been published can tarnish a reputation that should have been left alone. By contrast, the Nobel laureate Singer, who died in 1991, is well served by More Stories from My Father's Court."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of More Stories from My Father's Court, p. 5.
Jewish Standard, March 24, 2000, Rebecca Boroson, review of Partita in Venice, p. 29.
Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, December 19, 1980, Stuart Lewis, review of Passion in the Desert, p. 16.
Library Journal, September 15, 1969, Rosalind Shor, review of Masterpieces of Hebrew Literature: A Treasury of 2,000 Years of Jewish Creativity, p. 3067; January 1, 1981, Marcia R. Hoffman, review of Passion in the Desert, p. 74; June 15, 1992, Marcia G. Fuchs, review of The Heart-stirring Sermon: And Other Stories, p. 104; December, 2000, Philip Santo, review of Diary of an Adulterous Woman: Including an ABC Directory That Offers Alphabetical Tidbits and Surprises, p. 189.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 17, 1991, Michael Harris, review of The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah, p. 6.
New Republic, March 19, 1977, review of The Yemenite Girl, pp. 33-34.
New Yorker, July 22, 1985, review of From the Fair: The Autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, p. 90.
New York Times Book Review, July 14, 1985, Chaim Potok, "The Human Comedy of Pereyaslav," pp. 12-13; December 16, 1990, Howard Mittelmark, review of The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah.
Present Tense, autumn, 1984, Jack Fischel, "Raising Questions," pp. 57, 59.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1985, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of From the Fair, p. 50; August 24, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah, p. 57; May 11, 1992, review of The Heart-stirring Sermon, p. 54; October 11, 1999, review of Partita in Venice, p. 54; September 18, 2000, review of More Stories from My Father's Court, p. 93; November 20, 2000, review of Diary of an Adulterous Woman, p. 48; January 6, 2003, review of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet, and, Weekend in Mustara: Two Novellas, p. 41.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2002, Irving Malin, review of Diary of an Adulterous Woman, p. 126; summer, 2003, Patricia Laurence, review of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet, and, Weekend in Mustara, p. 143.
Shofar, spring, 2005, David A. Epstein, review of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Music of the Hebrew Alphabet, and, Weekend in Mustara, p. 190.
Speculum, January, 1971, Morris Epstein, review of King Artus: A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279, pp. 162-164.
Sun Sentinel, February 4, 2001, Chauncey Mabe, review of Diary of an Adulterous Woman, p. 10D.
Tikkun, March, 2002, review of Diary of an Adulterous Woman, p. 79.
Washington Post Book World, June 26, 1977, Bill Niederkorn, review of The Yemenite Girl.
World Literature Today, summer-autumn, 2001, James Knudsen, review of More Stories from My Father's Court, p. 200.