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The amazing adventures of Michael Chabon

As a Jewish kid growing up in Mary­land, Michael Chabon thought of Israel as a fallout shelter. In 2007, the award-​​winning author wrote “The Yid­dish Policeman’s Union,” a detec­tive novel in which Jewish refugees find a tem­po­rary safe haven in Alaska. The goal of writing the novel, he said, was to “build myself a home in my imagination.”

Speaking to more than 100 mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity who gath­ered in Blackman Audi­to­rium on Wednesday evening for the 20th annual Robert Salomon Morton Lec­ture enti­tled “Imag­i­nary Home­lands,” he added, “I wanted to know where I came from and see if I dropped any­thing along the way.”

The lec­ture con­cluded the university’s annual Holo­caust Aware­ness Week, a two-​​day series of pro­grams and events aimed to cel­e­brate the memory of Holo­caust vic­tims and serve as a reminder of con­tem­po­rary acts of geno­cide. The event was pre­sented by the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center with the Holo­caust Aware­ness Com­mitttee. The com­mittee com­prises an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group of fac­ulty and staff under the lead­er­ship of Georges Van Den Abbeele, founding dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties.

Van Den Abbeele intro­duced Chabon, whom he called “one of the most cel­e­brated Amer­ican writers of his generation.”

Chabon’s body of writing, Van Den Abbeele noted, is “char­ac­ter­ized by com­plex lan­guage and a set of themes, including nos­talgia, divorce and issues of Jewish identity.”

Chabon, who received a Master of Fine Arts in cre­ative writing at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, Irvine, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-​​winning novel “The Amazing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay,” which tells a Holo­caust story of Jewish cousins who become major players in the comics industry.

On Wednesday evening, Chabon dis­cussed how the evo­lu­tion of his lit­erary career shaped his cul­tural and reli­gious views. He released his debut novel, “The Mys­teries of Pitts­burgh,” when he was only 25 years old, a time in which he began ques­tioning his belief in Judaism.

“I was learning to ques­tion every­thing and trying to fit in,” Chabon explained, noting that his ini­tial interest in writing sci­ence fic­tion novels was quashed by his col­lege instruc­tors. “Nothing about being Jewish seemed to have use or rela­tion to my life at that time.”

After the lec­ture, Chabon fielded ques­tions posed by audi­ence members.

Eng­lish pro­fessor Sam Bern­stein, who called Kava­lier & Clay “an extra­or­di­nary work of lit­er­a­ture in our cul­ture today,” asked Chabon whether he felt a tinge of sad­ness or depres­sion upon fin­ishing his magnum opus.

“When I approached the end of the man­u­script, I real­ized this would be the last time I would spend in this world,” Chabon responded. “When you have those moments, you have to take a little time to say goodbye.”

On Thursday morning, Chabon vis­ited the Human­i­ties Center to meet with stu­dents from the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Humanities.

Robert Salomon Morton was born in 1906 in Frank­furt am Main, Ger­many. A par­tic­u­larly har­rowing expe­ri­ence in 1934 con­vinced him that he had no choice but to apply for emi­gra­tion to the United States, in which he arrived three years later.

A chance meeting at a bar­ber­shop brought him together with North­eastern dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of chem­istry Bill Giessen, who grew up in Nazi Ger­many and passed away in 2010. The long-​​time friend­ship that resulted from this chance encounter helped foster a sense of dis­covery between the two men and led to the cre­ation of the annual Morton lecture.

– by Northeastern News

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