Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Conversation with Professor John Biguenet, Author of "I Am Not a Jew"

Our Advanced Reading class in the Loyola Intensive English Program has been reading short stories and articles about how we respond to differences, particularly to people who are different. One of the most poignant of these has been "I Am Not a Jew," from the short story collection The Torturer's Apprentice by John Biguenet.

The Torturer's Apprentice
by John Biguenet
A collection of short stories,
including "I Am Not a Jew"
In "I Am Not a Jew," Mr. Peter Anderson, a U.S. tourist in Germany, takes an evening walk alone outside the town of Waldheim and comes across a Jewish cemetery. Attracted by its beauty and peacefulness, Anderson enters and strolls meditatively among the graves. Suddenly, he is confronted by a group of four tough neo-Nazis, who threaten him. Terrified, Anderson saves himself by crying out, "I am not a Jew!" This is true -- Anderson, in fact, is not Jewish. Later, however, he feels guilt about his response. The story leaves Anderson -- and us -- with the question: What should I have done?

John Biguenet
Professor and Author
Loyola University New Orleans
On Monday, September 22, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with John Biguenet, the author of "I Am Not a Jew." Professor Biguenet is also Chair of the English Department at Loyola University New Orleans. He spoke to us about how he came to write this story and explained how its many vivid descriptive details come from his own experience visiting Germany.

Professor Biguenet told us that he wrote "I Am Not a Jew" in response to the war in Bosnia during the 1990s. This war raised disturbing but important moral questions for him. In grappling with the complexities of writing about Bosnia, Professor Biguenet realized that he could examine the moral questions more effectively by situating them within a context more familiar to readers -- that of post-World War II Germany.

The details of "I Am Not a Jew" include the picturesque ice creams sold in the town's shops, the ambiguous angel/demon figures surrounding the town fountain, the elaborate but somewhat sinister mechanical clock above the town square. Professor Biguenet explained how these and other details came directly from his experience and observations in Germany and how he used them in "I Am Not a Jew" to create an environment that is just unfamiliar enough to be slightly disconcerting.

Most importantly, Professor Biguenet stressed that his purpose as an author is not to provide answers but to ask questions.

Thank you, Professor John Biguenet!

Professor John Biguenet with the Advanced Reading class

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