Stranger in a Strange Land

Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem

George Prochnik

Published: 1 June 2017
Hardback, Royal HB
156x234mm, 528 pages
ISBN: 9781783781782


Gershom Scholem, the great humanist thinker and founder of modern Kabalah, is all but forgotten today. But here, in a biography as daring and inquisitive as its subject, George Prochnik goes in search of Scholem, restoring the reputation of a vital intellectual and finding in his work a vision with the power to reinvigorate contemporary religious and political thought.

Tracing Scholem's life from his upbringing in Berlin, where he experienced a close and transformative friendship with Walter Benjamin, Prochnik reveals how Scholem's frustration with the bourgeois ideology of Germany during WWI led him to discover mystic Judaism, Kabbalah, and, finally, Zionism. But having emigrated to what was to become Israel, Scholem again found himself a 'stranger in a strange land', ill at ease with a prevailing conservative form of Zionism.

Prochnik follows Scholem to the modern Holy Land - only to find that he too is disillusioned by the state politics he encounters. But through his profound study of Scholem and his own experience of Jerusalem, Prochnik not only questions the ideological and religious constructs of Jerusalem, but finds an ethical way forward, showing how a new form of pluralism might energize Jewish thought.

About the author

Image of George Prochnik

George Prochnik's essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He has taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine, and is the author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (2014), In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010), and Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology (2006). His book Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem is forthcoming with Granta Books. He lives in New York City. More about the author


‘[An] ardent, beautifully written book’ Stuart Jeffries



‘Extraordinary... [A] very unusual book’ Jonathan Steinberg

‘George Prochnik blends history, philosophy, and memoir with exemplary panache in this fascinating account of an intellectual and spiritual journey. But he never loses sight of the essential questions: How are we to live? And in what kind of world?’ Pankaj Mishra

‘Through Prochnik's supple, finely honed sentences, the reader is borne into the private, inner worlds of the converted, and sees what happens when expectations of terrestrial grace disintegrate in the light of inconvenient truths... His disillusionment, recounted with excruciating candour, is a unique chronicle of self-discovery, and in describing the agonies of displacement, and of being a stranger in a strange land, the book is a moving requiem to the virtue of compassion in this present age of the refugee’ Gavin Jacobsen

‘What a wonderful book this is: gripping, illuminating, beautifully constructed, and full of the communicative energy that comes from things long in gestation but written with fire and speed... The extraordinary affinities between author and subject give the book an emotional intensity that complements its erudition and lends power to its final, audacious, inspiring claim on the reader's capacity for hope’ James Lasdun

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