Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michael Goldfarb's "Emancipation"

One of Michael Goldfarb's documentaries for the public radio program Inside Out became the basis for his first book, Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq, which was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2005. Reporting another documentary, British Jihad: Inside Out, provided the inspiration for his new book, Emancipation: How Liberating Europe's Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance.

Goldfarb applied the “Page 99 Test” to Emancipation and reported the following:
There is nothing in heaven that ordains a clever remark by a highly regarded author must be correct and I'm afraid p. 99 in my book proves that Ford Madox Ford was talking rubbish.

Not that p.99 is uninteresting, it explains how Napoleon, having convened the leaders of France's emancipated Jewish community in what he called the Great Sanhedrin, decided to organize Jewish life under the aegis of the state. Church and state are not quite separate in France. The government administers many aspects of French religious life. P. 99 in my book describes how Napoleon brought Jewish life under state control in an attempt to force the pace of the community's integration and assimilation. They had only been out of the ghetto for 15 years yet they were still practicing usury, rabbis did not speak French and they had not taken French names!!!!!!!!! This story is interesting but not necessarily the best in the book and I might suggest a more numerological expansion of Ford's theory to get to some juicier bits.

P. 199 is more like it. It describes the scene in Vienna in March 1848 when that year's revolutionary cyclone finally touched down in the Austrian capitol and two Jewish medical students suddenly found themselves leading a demonstration at the Austrian parliament.

P. 299 describes the home life of young Sigmund Freud in Vienna. One of the best insights in my book is that Jews coming out of the ghetto were like immigrants in their own countries. Freud's early life on Matzo island, Vienna's Jewish neighborhood, is like the story of some brilliant son of off the boat immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York in the early 20th century. It's a very good page.

P. 399 is in the index (I deliberately tried not to write a long book ... it is a popular history, a book that is a pleasure to read not an exercise in proving how much I know). Anyway, by chance this is the J page and if you were just thumbing through you would find a key on this page to most of the book's main topics under the word "Jews."
Read an excerpt from Emancipation, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Goldfarb's website.

--Marshal Zeringue