Agnon, S.Y.

orig. Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes

born July 17, 1888, Buczacz, Galicia, Austria-Hungary
died Feb. 17, 1970, Reḥovot, Israel

Israeli writer.

Born into a Polish Galician family, Agnon settled in Palestine in 1907 and chose Hebrew as his literary language. The Day Before Yesterday (1945), perhaps his greatest novel, examines the problem facing the Westernized Jew who immigrates to Israel. Other works include the novels The Bridal Canopy (1919) and A Guest for the Night (1938). He is regarded as one of the greatest modern Hebrew novelists and short-story writers. In 1966 he and Nelly Sachs shared the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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▪ Israeli author
in full  Shmuel Yosef Agnon , pseudonym of  Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes 
born July 17, 1888, Buczacz, Galicia, Austria-Hungary [now Buchach, Ukraine]
died Feb. 17, 1970, Reḥovot, Israel
 Israeli writer who was one of the leading modern Hebrew novelists and short-story writers. In 1966 he was the corecipient, with Nelly Sachs (Sachs, Nelly), of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

      Born of a family of Polish Jewish merchants, rabbis, and scholars, Agnon wrote at first (1903–06) in Yiddish and Hebrew, under his own name and various pseudonyms. Soon after settling in Palestine in 1907, however, he took the surname Agnon and chose Hebrew as the language in which to unfold his dramatic, visionary, highly polished narratives.

      Agnon's real literary debut was made with Agunot (1908; “Forsaken Wives”), his first “Palestinian” story. His first major work was the novel Hakhnasat kalah, 2 vol. (1919; The Bridal Canopy). Its hero, Reb Yudel Hasid, is the embodiment of every wandering, drifting Jew in the ghettos of the tsarist and Austro-Hungarian empires. His second novel, Ore'aḥ Nataʿ Lalun (1938; A Guest for the Night), describes the material and moral decay of European Jewry after World War I. His third and perhaps greatest novel, ʿTmol shilshom (1945; “The Day Before Yesterday”), examines the problems facing the westernized Jew who immigrates to Israel. This is neither a realistic story (like some of the early tales) nor a symbolic autobiography, yet it can be understood only in the light of Agnon's own actual and spiritual experience.

      All Agnon's works are the final result of innumerable Proust-like revisions, as is shown by the many manuscripts in existence and by the variety of the printed texts. Already there are two widely different versions of his collected works, one in 11 volumes (Kol sipurav shel Shmuel Yosef Agnon, vol. 1–6, Berlin, 1931–35; 7–11, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1939–52) and one in 8 volumes (Tel Aviv, 1953–62). The archaic structure of his prose presents great difficulties for the translator, yet even in translation his power is unmistakable.

      Agnon edited an anthology of folktales inspired by the High Holidays of the Jewish year, Yamim nora'im (1938; Days of Awe, 1948), and a selection of famous rabbinic texts, Sefer, sofer, vesipur (1938). An autobiographical sketch appeared in 1958. Translations of his works include In the Heart of the Seas (1948; Bi-levav yamim) and Two Tales (1966; Edo ve-Enam).

Additional Reading
Critical studies of Agnon's writing include Arnold J. Band, Nostalgia and Nightmare: A Study in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (1968); Baruch Hochman, The Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (1970); Harold Fisch, S.Y. Agnon (1975); David Aberbach, At the Handles of the Lock: Themes in the Fiction of S.Y. Agnon (1984); Anne Golomb Hoffman, Between Exile and Return: S.Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing (1991); and Nitza Ben-Dov, Agnon's Art of Indirection (1993).

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Universalium. 2010.

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