by: Ilan Stavans
Published by: Schocken Books
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Review by Steven King, MBA
The Hebrew language is perhaps one of the most fascinating tongues in the history of civilization. It is the only language that has officially died and that has experienced a resurrection. Dr. Ilan Stavans, the Chair of Spanish at Amherst College, illustrates the rebirth of this amazing language in Resurrecting Hebrew.
The good professor approaches the rebirth from a pretty weird angle – his recollection of a dream that propels him to reconnect with his lost Hebrew. In his dream, a lady sits next to him at a party and speaks in a language he does not immediately recognize. Conveniently, a group of rabbis are nearby, and one informs him that the mysterious language is Hebrew. His dream haunts him since a Jewish native from Mexico City should recognize the tongue of his youth. To add to the mystery, the lady completely undresses herself during the conversation.
Bothered, the dream propels Dr. Stavans to search out its meaning. After much reflective thought and conversations will well-intended friends, he believes the dream means he is “missing” his Hebrew. This displaced Jewish man is in the midst of a language identity crisis.
To find his language he investigates the life of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, a lexicographer who is credited with helping Hebrew to achieve its national status once again. Ardently he searches and passionately he writes. The prose, however, is dreadfully slow in places. The various conversations he alludes to in full quotation do not ordinarily occur in casual circumstances.
Love language? Read this book. Don’t read it in bed, however, or the Hebrew language won’t be the only thing that needs a resurrection.
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