Identity Theft: The Jew in Imperial Russia and the Case of Avraam Uri Kovner

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Identity Theft focuses on the life and writing of Avraam Uri Kovner. As one of the fiery Jewish nihilists of his generation, variously a critic, author, and bank embezzler, Kovner embodies the problem of identity as a series of translations across cultural boundaries. Kovner, who initiated modern Hebrew criticism, published two novels in Russian as well as a weekly column in a widely read Russian newspaper. He forged a bank check and became notorious in the Russian press as an example of the danger integration of the Jews represented to Russian society. From prison, and later in exile, Kovner defended the Jews in a series of letters to Fedor Dostoevsky and Vasilii Rozanov, both of whom vilified Jews in their writings. Ostracized by both the Jewish and Russian communities, he mimed and at the same time undermined rigid stereotypes of Jewish and Russian behavior, pointing out the uneasy interdependence of the two cultures he inhabited.