Convergences: Biguenet’s “I Am Not a Jew,” “Mishpocha,” and Arnost Lustig

On February 27, a few hours after I learned of the passing of Arnost Lustig, I listened to a Selected Shorts broadcast featuring John Biguenet’s story, “I Am Not a Jew.” As the series describes it, this is a story “in which a frightened tourist has a failure of nerve that resonates deeply. SHORTS literary commentator Hannah Tinti notes: ‘What makes ‘I Am Not a Jew’ so disturbing is how it dissects the ways we collectively excuse ourselves from standing up for what’s right.'”

It didn’t take long for me to discern that the situation that the tourist faces in Biguenet’s story shares some similarities with an episode described in “Mishpocha,” the closing story in my collection, Quiet Americans. Even before I wrote the story, the episode troubled me enough that I mentioned it in a workshop led by Arnost Lustig. I wrote about this during my January “virtual tour” for Quiet Americans. Since last Sunday, Biguenet’s story–combined with Arnost’s passing–has me thinking about it all over again.