The Island Within, by Ludwig Lewisohn is a saga, a novel that depicts three generations of a Jewish family as their lives lead them from Vilna, Lithuania to America. The book deals with Jewish life, its traditions, religion, and with assimilation in Eastern Europe and in America.
The story line evolves through decades of the family generations, through political turmoil, and shows how each generation leaves religion and family traditions behind in order to fit into new cultural structures, and how they try assimilate.
Deep within their assimilation questions of religion and Judaism lie lurking. Each generation’s feeling of contentment, and discontentment flows through the veins of familial lines. Each family member feels the pull of Jewishness within them, and some deny their Jewishness, while others are demonstrative in their Jewishness.
One family member, the young Arthur Levey, a psychoanalyst, begins to feel the ebb and flow of his life begin to spiritually decline, to falter, more so when his son his born. He questions his existence and lack of spiritual strength, and begins a journey to find the meaning of religion and the role it should play in his life.
The ending is poignant and lovely. We are left to ponder the issues of inter-marriage, issues of assimilation, political issues, the role of religion in modern society and the ancestral ties that bind us to our religious traditions and religious culture.
Ludwig Lewisohn writes eloquently, and with precise details, in an almost poetic fashion at times, bringing us a family saga, and excellent novel, which has something in it for everyone, Jewish or otherwise. The Island Within is a masterful saga, and its pages hold familial perception and illumination.