Although three of her published novels were structured around a Jewish storyline, Laura Zametkin Hobson did not wish to be perceived as a Jewish American novelist. She saw being a writer and being a Jew as two separate aspects of her identity.
Hobson, the daughter of revolutionaries who fled Czarist Russia and wrote for New York’s Yiddish press, was born in New York City in 1900. In the 1930s, she made a name for herself in the world of publishing and journalism, working for Time and helping launch Life Magazine.
Although Judaism did not play a central role in Hobson’s life, her first novel, The Trespassers (1943), was a protest against the quota system that had made it so difficult for Jews to escape Nazi Europe. Hobson herself had sponsored several Austrian-Jewish families attempting to emigrate.
The novel that made Hobson famous was Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)–the story of a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to expose the “polite” anti-Semitism by which Jews were excluded from clubs, hotels, and society.
For Gentleman’s Agreement, Hobson refused the honor of having her book named best Jewish novel of 1947 by The Jewish Book Council because she felt that the book was about American society, with only a tangential relevance to Jewish life. (She later stated that she regretted that decision.)
Hobson’s third Jewish novel, Over and Above, reflects her greater interest in her Jewish identity that developed toward the end of her life. The novel is based on three generations of an American Jewish family in an era when the UN declared Zionism to be “Racism,” and Jews around the world were awed by the heroism of the Israeli soldiers.
In addition to these three books, Hobson wrote six other novels, several children’s books and an autobiography entitled Laura Z. She passed away in February 1986.
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