Search This Blog

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Passover And Books!

Today is Good Friday and I’ve been tin rattling for the Royal Children’s Hospital, as I have every year for a very long time. I filled two tins with money that will be used for research by the hospital, so that hopefully some children’s illnesses will become history.

It’s also about to be Passover. Passover and Easter don’t always coincide, but they more or less do this year. So, what can I offer in the way of books? Back in 2012, I posted about a number of books that had Easter or Passover themes.

So, this time, I’m going to talk about something else. Thomas Mann’s Joseph And His Brothers is a four volume novel published in 1943. I picked up a copy remaindered in one of Melbourne’s many bookshops that have closed since then. It was 25c a volume. I  see it’s available in a one volume edition on Amazon these days, for a lot more than I paid!  

Why the story of Joseph in connection with Passover? Well, that, according to the book of Genesis, is how the Jews got to Egypt in the first place.

And Joseph And His Brothers, despite its length and elaborate language, is a delightful book. I never realised how much I’d enjoy it till I decided to give it a go and zoomed through it in no time flat. Mann also wrote a novella about Moses and that was fun too. You’ll find my description of that in the post I mention above.

Thomas Mann’s Joseph is charming. He infuriates his brothers to the point where you can understand why they throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery. But he impresses everyone else, even the people taking him to Egypt. When he gets there, he works out how to impress Potiphar, his master. The bit about Potiphar’s wife uses some scenes from Muslim tradition. It also suggests why she tries to seduce him. For starters she is an honorary wife only, to one of the court’s top eunuch officials. The poor man’s parents had him cut as a child so he could get a good job and support them in their old age. In any case, Mrs Potiphar is not the vamp you imagine from, say, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat(her only line in that is, “Come and lie with me, love!” The role was played by Joan Collins in the Donny Osmond version).

Even thrown into prison this Joseph becomes a sort of assistant jailer. Oh, yes, a charming young man! If Mann’s Joseph was working in a modern office he’d be your supervisor before the first week was over!

There’s more to it than this, of course. Apparently the theme was “the harrowing of hell” as shown in various myths. But that doesn’t stop the author from making you smile as you read and often laugh out loud. I’d love to see it as a television mini series. There have been two Joseph mini series that I recall - one was Jacob And Joseph, with Keith Michell as Jacob and Julian Glover as Esau, I can’t recall who played Joseph, but there were quite a few Israeli cast members, including a guy who played Pharaoh with a strong Hebrew accent. Another one had Aussie dancer Paul Mercurio as Joseph. Not as good as the other series. But neither was based on Thomas Mann.

Has anyone out there read this? What did you think? 

No comments: