Robert Alter

Paul de Man Was a Total Fraud
April 05, 2014

Paul de Man lied about everything: his college, his grad school, his rent payments, his quotations of Nietzsche and Rousseau. He even cheated his father out of his life savings. And that's just the beginning.

How to Read the King James Bible
September 14, 2012

A new edition takes the King James Bible out of the museum display case.

Enough Already
March 15, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank By Nathan Englander (Alfred A. Knopf, 207 pp., $24.95) The great mystery about the fiction of Nathan Englander is the rapturous response that it has elicited. The enigma deepens with the accolades for this new volume of stories, which, for reasons I will try to explain, is a great falling-off from For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, his debut collection, which appeared in 1999.

The Freedom of the Café
June 09, 2011

Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe By Shachar M. Pinsker (Stanford University Press, 487 pp., $60) Elias Canetti, the German-language writer, born to a Bulgarian Sephardic family, who won the Nobel Prize in 1981, tells in his memoirs of his daily meetings in a Viennese café during the 1920s with a certain Dr. Sonne. A man of broad culture who radiated a quietly powerful sense of authority, Dr. Sonne was known by Canetti, somewhat to his perplexity, to be a Hebrew poet.

In the Name of the Mother
October 09, 2010

To the End of the Land By David Grossman Translated by Jessica Cohen (Knopf, 577 pp., $26.95) There are three major Hebrew novels that record the anguished way-stations of the Zionist experience: S.Y. Agnon’s Only Yesterday, a masterpiece published in 1945, which deals with the early settlers in the first decade of the twentieth century, when he himself came to Palestine; S.

The Sense of an Ending
August 21, 2010

Click here to read a collection of Frank Kermode’s best work for The New Republic. Frank Kermode, who died this week at the age of 90, certainly lived a full and productive intellectual life to the very end, but his passing leaves a palpable void, because there is no one quite like him left in either the British or the American literary world. The astonishing range of topics that he addressed over the years was not a reflex of dilettantism but rather the expression of an endless curiosity about a wide variety of writers and eras and cultural phenomena.

July 17, 2010

Chapter One, 1-9 The words of Qohelet son of David, king in Jerusalem. Merest breath, said Qohelet, merest breath.

Scripture Picture
October 19, 2009

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, 224 pp., $24.95)  A certain amount of sensationalistic misinformation was circulated in the press last spring, here and in England, when word got out that R. Crumb had done an illustrated version of Genesis. Crumb was the leading innovative figure of the underground comics movement of the late 1960s and has enjoyed a devoted following ever since. His graphic work, always memorable, is often physically aggressive, raunchy, and sexually explicit.

Jeanne's Way
March 26, 2008

Madame Proust: A Biography By Evelyne Bloch-Dano Translated by Alice Kaplan (University of Chicago Press, 310 pp., $27.50) IT HAS NEVER BEEN CLEAR what, if anything, should be made of the fact that Proust's mother was a Jew. This genealogical fact means that in the patently irrelevant terms of Jewish law, he, too, could be called a Jew, while in the equally irrelevant terms of biology he was half-Jewish.

The Trials
March 06, 2006

KAFKA: THE DECISIVE YEARS   By Reiner Stach   Translated by Shelley Frisch (Harcourt, 581 pp., $35)           THERE IS A TANTALIZING gap between our increasingly detailed knowledge of Kafka's life and our imperfect understanding of his achievement as a writer. His work seems to cry out for biographical readings and has often been subjected to them, characteristically along psychoanalytic lines. Yet the obvious connections between life and work have not explained much about the work.