The Nobel Prize Winner S. Y. Agnon is Israel’s most famous writer. Like the Bible, his works can be read and enjoyed on many levels.


Two Tales

Betrothed & Edo and Enam

By Shmuel Yosef Agnon

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (July 17, 1888 – February 17, 1970) is considered one of Israel’s greatest writers. Agnon shared the Nobel Prize with the poet Nelly Sachs in 1966. Some of his works deal with the conflict between the traditional Orthodox Jewish life and life and behavior in the modern world.

Many of his stories are told by a narrator, and he is credited for contributing to the broadening the characteristic conception of the narrator role in literature. Many are written in the magical realism style of another Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magic realism a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy. An example would be where an author tells realistically about a man beginning to cross a bridge, but when he gets about half way across, he begins to rise in the air and float the rest of the way. The style is entertaining, thought provoking, and it prompts readers to form their own interpretation of the tale, as parables do.

Betrothed is about a man and a woman who as children promised to marry each other as they stood at the edge of a Viennese garden pool, as the biblical Jacob and Rachel stood by water in Genesis 29 and as kings were crowned by water, as in I Kings 1. The story focuses on what transpires to the couple when they fail to marry as they swore to do and their reunion after the passing of many years. As with many other Agnon stories, this one can be read literally, what is said in the tale is what happens. It can also be read as a rich allegory, as scholars insist it be read and enjoyed.

Similarly, some scholars insist that Edo and Enam can only be read as an allegory; otherwise it is enigmatic and inexplicable. But the scholar Arnold Band inveighed against focusing on the complexity of the tale “which detracts the reader and critic from the aesthetic charm of the story.” The tale is set in Jerusalem in the final years of the British Mandate. A couple, husband and wife, are house sitting, while in an adjacent room sits a scholar, a recluse, a mysterious man, who is studying an ancient culture. The wife is from a faraway land. She has a strange sleep walking disease and seems to walk toward the scholar.

Both stories are erotic, and both are superb on many levels.