What is Jewish Noir?

According to Wikipedia, film noir comprises “stylish crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations.”

So, what then is Jewish Noir? Moving the medium from film to short stories, we get a series (two books so far) edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimée Osman. As you can see from the image below, the subtitle is Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds, which doesn’t sound particularly Jewish. But wait…. I just finished reading the stories in the volume shown here, Volume II, and I have mixed reactions, as is typical in the case of a collection of stories by many different authors. I rather like Michael Moorcock’s comment on the collection: “A little angst, some healthy cynicism, a touch of guilt, a few wisecracks and some very good stories. What else were you expecting?”

Jewish culture, of course, has many aspects, hence the six parts of this book: Legacies, Scattered and Dispersed, A Shandeh far di Goyim, The God of Mercy, The God of Vengeance, and American Splendor. If you know no Yiddish, you may need the title of the third part translated; the editors render it as “you shame us in front of the world,” which is a very rough translation. “A disgrace in front of the gentiles” would be more literal, and it’s an expression that every American Ashkenazi Jew learns as a child, even if one has no other knowledge of Yiddish, when hearing about Bernie Madoff or other disgraceful Jews. For more information, read Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s new memoir, Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy.

If you’re puzzled about the inconsistency of shandeh and shanda in the previous paragraph, it’s easily explained. Aside from the fact that there are many different dialects of Yiddish, there’s the more important observation that Yiddish isn’t written in the Roman writing system. It’s written in a modified Hebrew alphabet, which can be transliterated in the Roman alphabet in multiple ways, just like the multiple transliterations of Zelenskyy from Cyrillic to Roman.

But I digress.

An Amazon reviewer named H. Slowinski aptly summarizes the book this way:

a collection of twenty-four stories from a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish writers focusing on topics including the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the US, the influence of stereotypes about certain Jewish communities on anti-Semitic attitudes, Israel’s ongoing legacy of regional warfare, the Jewish role in the civil rights movement, and many more, timely topics.

Anyway, some of the stories in this collection are funny, some are overly earnest, some are captivating. Some I read with great attention, some I skimmed, some I stopped reading after the first page. The library won’t mind, as long as I return the book.

Categories: Books, Life