Amherst College Professor Ilán Stavans Publishes Book on Reviving the Hebrew Language
September 22, 2008
Contact: Emanuel Costache ’09
Media Relations Intern
AMHERST, Mass.—Ilán Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College 40th Anniversary Professor at Amherst College, has just published Resurrecting Hebrew ($21, Schocken, 2008), the story of how Hebrew was rescued from extinction to become the living language of a modern nation. “This story will be read with deep interest by all those who are fascinated by the renaissance of an ancient language,” said Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and author of Night, adding that the book is “exciting and penetrating.”
As Stavans tells it, a dream of a beautiful woman speaking an unknown tongue sent him in search of a language he later discovers to be Hebrew. The quest for his own forgotten tongue becomes the search for the man who led the revival of Hebrew at the end of the 19th century, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Journeying to Israel to learn about this amateur lexicographer, Stavans finds that the modern vernacular of spoken Hebrew has absorbed the politics and structure of Arabic, English and even Russian. Surrounding the story of Ben-Yehuda, Stavans finds questions about the role of language in contemporary Israeli politics. All the tensions between the Diaspora and the idea of a “promised land” pulse beneath the surface of Stavans’ intellectual and personal search for origins of Modern Hebrew.
“It is a story too fantastic for fiction,” wrote Aaron Lansky, president of the National Yiddish Book Center, “and Ilán Stavans tells it with erudition, charm and a barely contained sense of astonishment.” Harold Bloom was likewise enthusiastic, calling Resurrecting Hebrew—which is part of Nextbook publishing’s award-winning Jewish Encounters series—a “remarkably original and appealing book.”
Stavans is the author of two collections of short stories and 15 works of nonfiction, including On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language and Dictionary Days. His many awards and honors include an Emmy nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Pablo Neruda Medal and the National Jewish Book Award (for his anthology The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature). After a decade of work, Stavans has recently finished editing The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature and is currently putting the finishing touches on the first volume of his biography of Gabriel García Márquez.