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|The Fall of a Sparrow|
|A Jewish Book Reviews Exclusive|
The Fall of a Sparrow, the first full-length scholarly biography of Abba Kovner, is now available in English ten years after its 2000 publication in Hebrew. Its author, Dina Porat, Professor of Modern Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, has done a masterful and evenhanded job of presenting, within the context of his times, the complexity and controversy of what she calls in her preface "the fascinating stormy life story of an extraordinary personality."
The renowned poet-hero of the Jewish resistance movement in Vilna (Vilnius) Lithuania emerging from these pages is both familiar and unfamiliar. Kovner's ringing proclamations that galvanized the Vilna ghetto underground are well known, the five times he seriously considered suicide less so. The bluntness with which he later rebuked survivors who abandoned leadership roles to flee Nazi occupation humiliated many of them for the rest of their lives, but the paralyzing guilt he felt for the acts of violence he and the others committed as a result of staying behind remained largely unknown to reading audiences until now. These contradictions (outlined with remarkable detachment by Porat, given the passions that still exist in Israel about Kovner) make this book essential reading for anyone interested in more than superficial explanations of the thoughts, motivations, and actions of people living through an incomprehensible time.