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The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon, 1735–1950, by Lev Hakak. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2009. 258 pp. $39.95.
The Emergence of Modern Hebrew Creativity in Babylon, 1935–1950 is a study of the hitherto very little known Modern Hebrew literature in Iraq. The traditional view held by scholars of Modern Hebrew literature was that it originated and developed in (Eastern) Europe, and that the literature of the Near Eastern Jews was only of the traditional, religious kind, if any. The Hebrew material collected and analyzed by him shows that its authors, while still traditional in some ways, also were very modern, familiar with universal literary themes and cultural, historical, intellectual, spiritual, and ideological trends of their time (1735–1950). Hakak, with much erudition, shows clear parallels between the Jewish-Iraqi trends and those of European colleagues. Hakak’s volume includes a fine historical-literary introduction, providing details about this literature and its inspiration from earlier periods, especially that of the “Golden Age” of Muslim Spain, as well as from modern Zionist and universal currents in Europe and Israel-Palestine. Hakak shows how deep the writers’ education was to enable them to express fine nuances of their sentiments so well in a language that was not a mother tongue. The Introduction is followed by three parts, each with a few chapters (twelve altogether). Each part is provided with a fine introduction, and each poem or work is thoroughly documented, analyzed, and evaluated. Hakak has the ability and all the means necessary for this kind of analysis and shows much familiarity with Hebrew poetry, be it Biblical or of the Spanish period, and of more recent times. This English edition is much modified from the original Hebrew edition (Nitsane ha-Yetsira , Or Yehuda, 2003).