Turn of the Century Adventures in ‘The Old New Land’

Long time, no read…

Hi G.G. Readers, it’s been a while. For your reading pleasure on this rainy, cold day,  enjoy this travel-in-your-hands book review. I’ve been annoyingly confined to the place of my studies (Texas!) so writing a book review today seemed a good a use of time as any.

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The common-use cover isn’t very lively, I’m afraid.

The book I chose was “Altneuland” by Theodor Herzl, an iconic and widely criticized read. Controversy can make an ultimately good pick.

It has taken me a while to nail this down in my personal reading ethics, but there’s no shame in reading literary texts that are on the shorter end, or even better, texts that are free. “The New Old Land,” or “Altneuland” as it is called in German, is both.

For those who are interested, you can access the text here.

“The Old New Land” is far from a thoughtless, fun novel. Authored by Herzl in 1905, the text is a compelling (at times unbelievable) narrative of protagonist, Dr. Friedrich Loewenberg, a 23-year-old man who is educated but cannot find work. Friedrich is one of many in a population of young Jewish men of his time. He is in love Ernestine, who he cannot marry because he is poor. Luckily, Herzl doesn’t belabor the point.

At this time in Germany, Friedrich trapped in a small subsection of society. A young Jew in a liberal profession who cannot find work, the young doctor relies on the Jewish elite for social mobility—what little there is to be had—and basic acceptance.

The novel takes a swift turn as Friedrich becomes an aromantic travel companion to rich misanthrope Kingscourt who wishes to travel the world. The pair ends up in The New Society, a fabled Jerusalem, and the novel swiftly turns into an imaginative argument for Zionism.

“Midnight!” boomed Kingscourt. “Die, Time! I empty my glass to your death. What were you? Shame, blood, depravity, progress. Put up your glass, man, my isolated contemporary!

Why should you read this novel on The New Society? 

Regardless of what side you’re on in the Israel/Palestine conflict, I think the historical novel provides excellent exigence for understanding the romantic motivations of Hertzl as a major player. Something that was interesting for me is Hertzl’s lack of religious motivation in creating an inclusive, liberal Jewish society. It’s a cultural project above all else.

At times laughable, the novel far from well written. Ultimately, though it’s an interesting look into one man’s view of a possible future—however disruptive and dismissive he is toward Palestinian natives.

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