In a Maelstrom

The History of Russian-Jewish Prose, 1860–1940
$90.00 / €79.00 / £71.00
Publication date: 
332 pages

The first concise history of Russian-Jewish literary prose, this book discusses Russian-Jewish literarature in four periods, analyzing the turning points (1881–82, 1897, 1917) and proposing that the selected epoch (1860–1940) represents a special strand that was unfairly left out of both Russian and Jewish national literatures. Based on theoretical sources on the subject, the book establishes the criteria of dual cultural affiliation, and in a survey of Russian-Jewish literature presents the pitfalls of assimilation and discusses different forms of anti-Semitism. After showing the oeuvre of 18 representative authors as a whole, the book analyzes a number of characteristic novels and short stories in terms of contemporary literary studies. Many texts discussed have not been reprinted since their first publication. The material offers indispensable information not only for comparative and literary studies but for multicultural, historical, ethnographic, Judaist, religious and linguistic investigations as well. 


The Concept of Russian-Jewish Literature and its Ambiguities

One Literature – In Various Languages

Scattered Attempts at Definition

On Jewish Literature in Different Languages in General

The Three Mother Tongues of Russian Jewry

The Concept of Russian-Jewish Literature and Jewish Literature in another Language

Religion – Nation – Culture

The History of Russian-Jewish Prose (1860-1940)

I. “Hot Times” – The Utopia of Assimilation

The Jewish Haskala and Russian Reforms: the Start of Acculturation

Periodization of Russian-Jewish Literature

Russian-Jewish Periodicals (1860-1934

The Beginning of Russian-Jewish Literature (before 1860)



Grigorii BOGROV


II. “In a Maelstrom” – After the Pogroms

The Pogroms as a Watershed


Mordekhai BEN-AMI



III. “At a Crossroads” – Choosing Paths

Organizations of Jewish Culture

Semion AN-SKY

Aleksandr KIPEN

David Aizman

Semion Iushkevich

IV “Motherland” and “Graveyard” – Climax and Endgame

The Problem of “Jewish Revolutionaries”

“Dejudaization” and “Yiddishization”

“There are Jews but no Jewish question…”



Andrei SOBOL

Semion GEKHT



V. Perspectives


VI. An Unusual Conclusion and Summary: The Child’s Eye – a Pattern of Narration in the Literature of Jewish Assimilation. Isaac Babel in a Russian-Jewish, American and European Literary Context

VII. Annex


Index of Names


"The author did an impressive amount of research and presents the work of 18 writers, most of whom will be unfamiliar to readers in the US. In this respect, the book performs a valuable service that earns it a place in every Jewish library and every scholarly library. The essay on narrative patterns in 'Jewish assimilation literature' is also worthwhile. A decidedly useful study. Summing up: recommended."
"The book takes its aphoristic title from Sergei Yaroshevsky's tale "V omute" (1883; omut means "maelstrom" or "whirlpool"). Hetényi's title calls to mind not only the Jewish condition in Russia but also the oxymoronic Russian saying "v tikhom omute cherti vodiatsia" (literally, "in a calm maelstrom petty demons dwell")."
"Hetényi's Studie nimmt an einer zunehmend intensiveren Kommunikation teil, die von Wissenchaftlern aus Amerika, Europa, Israel und Russland geprägt wird. Den Ausgangspunkt ihrer Analysen bildet die Frage nach Identität mit den zentralen Kategorien von Religion, Nation und Kultur. Wenngleich das Buch die Dichotomie von Russisch versus Jüdisch perpetuiert, ist es reich an Details, an Verweisen auf motivgeschichtliche Zusammenhänge und Traditionen. Das gründlich recherchierte Material bietet eine guten Überblick und einführung in die Geschichte des russisch-jüdischen Literatur und thematisiert Fragen nach Zugehörigkeit, deren Relevanz sich insbesondere in den 1990er Jahren erneut manifestierte."
"A major study of this fascinating chapter in the intellectual and cultural history of the Jews in Russia. the significance of this breakthrough in scholarship is that it takes a post-1989 perspective on basic issues of Jewish identity, assimilation, and antisemitism with a new freedom and a new discovery of texts that were previously ignored or inaccessible. Moreover, Hetényi's interest is that of a comparativist studying a fascinating case of cultural cross-fertilization, a literature that wad both Russian and Jewish at the same time."