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The Orange Peel and Other Satires Paperback – October 1, 2015
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Some of the stories contain what some call “magical realism,” such as, in stories not in this volume, candles suspended in the air and a twentieth-century man meeting an eighteenth-century scholar. Also where a man draws a synagogue in the sand, knocks on its door and walks in. Some of Agnon’s tales are dream-like, Kafkaism, as when a man disliking his visit with a neighbor decides to go home, but he cannot find his way back and has even forgotten his address, a blind friend he hasn’t seen for many years helps him, and he discovers he is standing right beside his home. Still others show how life changes, as when a married couple become distant to one another and divorce, but once the divorce is consummated they become attracted to each other. Most of Agnon’s stories have many interpretations, layers of them, one deeper than the next, stories that can be understood literally but also as thought-provoking parables. Others are realistic, even strikingly so, and are very moving, pathetic tales. Two or more people can read the same story and understand it in the same way, or they may derive a different meaning, but however one interprets the tales, they will gain much, very much from the reading. One should be reminded of the rabbinical saying about the Bible, that it has seventy layers. Agnon’s books, of course, are not scripture, but they can and should be understood on the literal level and can also, if one wishes, understand a deeper, more profound meaning.
“The Orange Peel and Other Satires” are different than the above-mentioned examples. They are humorous tales. The volume contains four Agnon short stories which range from six to a dozen pages, and a novella “Young and Old together,” which is 104 pages long, and which mocks the Zionists of Galicia. The stories, as the book’s title indicates are satires. “The Orange Peel,” for example, tells about a man who sees an orange peel on the street and picks it up and places it in the trash, while onlookers debate whether he acted properly and the State gets involved in a ridiculous manner. In “On Taxes,” the State needs money and decides to tax walking sticks and canes which results in a chain of absurdities.
Toby Press includes notes at the end of the stories that explain them and uncovers meanings of many tales, deeper meanings we may miss. This section not only addresses the stories but also the life of the time of the tales and the foremost people of the time. Toby Press also includes a very interesting eleven-page Foreword that introduces readers to Agnon and which analyses the stories in the book.