Stollman, Aryeh Lev
STOLLMAN, Aryeh Lev
Nationality: American. Born: Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 1954. Education: Studied at a rabbinical college in Cleveland, Ohio; studied the Talmud and medicine at Yeshiva University, New York; Albert Einstein Medical School, New York; fellowship in neuroradiology, New York University. Career: Neuroradiologist, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York. Awards: Lambda literary award for gay men's fiction, 1998, and Wilbur award, both for The Far Euphrates.
The Far Euphrates. 1997.
The Illuminated Soul. 2002.*
"The Great Miracle" by Laura Furman, in Saturday Night, 112(7), September 1997, p. 119-20.* * *
Aryeh Lev Stollman, who was born in 1954 in Canada, typifies the new wave of religiously informed and Israel-inflected Jewish American/Jewish Canadian writers. Unlike Jewish writers of previous generations, from Henry Roth through Philip Roth , whose major subject was the immigrant experience and who, with a few exceptions, wrote outside any particular knowledge of or commitment to ritual observance and with at best only a fleeting interest in Zionism or the state of Israel, Stollman's novel, The Far Euphrates, and his short stories reverberate with a profoundly educated, cabalistically oriented modern-day Jewish consciousness. This Jewish consciousness is unabashed and takes the form of allusions as unselfconscious as those to science and classical culture, which also permeate his texts. Thus, his short story "Mr. Mitochondria," which, like other of his stories, makes extensive use of Stollman's expertise as a neuroradiologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, takes place in Beersheba, while "The Dialogues of Time and Entropy," in which biology and physics constitute nothing less than the philosophical weave of the story itself, is set in part in an Israeli settlement town. The story "The Adornment of Days," on the other hand, which is set in Jerusalem, has as much to do with the history of music as with Jewish mysticism, less well known Jewish holidays such as Tishah-b'Ab, the false messiah Shabbetai Tzevi, and the Shechinah. Punctuated by German, Yiddish, and Hebrew words, fragments of prayers and biblical texts, and figures from an esoteric past, the stories feel no obligation to clarify or translate every one of their obscure allusions, as if the work of understanding the Jewish past might be as legitimate an undertaking for a reader of contemporary writing as any other aspect of literary interpretation.
Indeed, Stollman's fiction may be understood as something of an act of recovery, restoring the Jewish past that has been snatched not only from Jewish but also from world culture. Although the short stories deal little if at all with the Holocaust—this is the province of the novel The Far Euphrates, winner of the Wilbur Award and Lambda Literary Award and chosen as a notable book by the American Library Association and recommended as a book of the year by the Los Angeles Times —many of them reverberate with the devastation of European Jewry and its world. Although the fiction is highly intellectual, it is also powerfully affective, haunted by death and loss that often take up residence in the story as a ghostly presence neither to be dismissed nor comprehended. Thus, in "Mr. Mitochondria" the child protagonist, through whose consciousness the story gets its focus, is actually a double consciousness, representing both himself and his deceased brother, who speaks through the living brother's mouth in much the way the Holocaust survivor Hannalore in The Far Euphrates speaks through the voice of the young narrator-protagonist of that work. The parents' migration from Stollman's own birthplace, Canada, to Israel, where, like another character in The Far Euphrates , they plant the shrubs and trees that are their "special babies," becomes then a journey both personal and collective. The family, the people, attempts to transplant itself in the modern ancient homeland only to be once again threatened, and overcome, by devastation and loss and in which the promise of the future cannot but speak in the voice of past torments and horrors.
Yet in that speaking the voice of the past enables the present to happen. "To keep our world alive," says the female protagonist in "The Dialogues of Time and Entropy," "we need, we absolutely must, reduce the entropy within history." The alternative to entropy is time, with all of its unpredictable, even heartrending, transformations. Set against Ahuva's mysticism and belief in miracles in the land of Israel (the name Ahuva means "love" in Hebrew) is the scientific rationalism of the story's narrator, the husband-scientist who, trying to discover a cure for an epidemic of deadly dizziness, in the end succumbs to the disease himself. But the mystical Ahuva survives, "borne up [in her husband's dying vision] at last by waves of miracles and hope," and even if she is temporarily defeated by the political world (her settlement is being dismantled by the government), she continues to "hover" like the Shechinah itself in "The Adornment of Days" and The Far Euphrates or like the "green line" in "The Creation of Anat," which represents the same life force of birth and growth as do the plants in "Mr. Mitochondria" and The Far Euphrates.
The alternative to such dizziness is the autism of the daughter in "The Dialogues of Time and Entropy." And dizziness itself, from which the protagonist in The Far Euphrates also suffers, can represent either death or ascendency. Apparently only faith can separate the one from the other. Stollman's is in that sense a faithful fiction, faithful to the poignancy of the human experience and to the specifically Jewish context of that experience, which is his own particular legacy.
See the essay on The Far Euphrates.