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Stranger in a Strange Land—Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem

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In Stranger in a Strange Land, George Prochnik revisits the life and work of Gershom Scholem, whose once prominent reputation as a Freud-like interpreter of the inner world of the cosmos has faded in the United States. He vividly recreates Scholem’s upbringing in Berlin and brings to life Scholem’s transformative friendship with Walter Benjamin, the critic and philosopher. In doing so, he reveals how Scholem’s frustration with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during the First World War led him to discover Judaism, Kabbalah, and finally Zionism, as potent counter-forces to Europe’s suicidal nationalism.

Prochnik’s self-imposed exile in the Holy Land in the 1990s brings him to question the intellectual and theological constructs of Jerusalem, and to rediscover the city as a physical place, rife with the unruliness and fecundity of nature. Prochnik ultimately suggests that a new form of ecological pluralism must now inherit the energizing role once played by Kabbalah and Zionism in Jewish thought.

George Prochnik’s The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World received the National Jewish Book Award for Biography/Memoir in 2014 and was short-listed for the Wingate Prize in the United Kingdom. Prochnik is also the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010), and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). He has written for The New Yorker, New York Times, Bookforum, and Los Angeles Review of Books, and is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine.