Tag Archives: Yiddish

“On the Landing: Stories by Yenta Mash”

Ellen Cassedy, trans. Northern Illinois University Press. 192 pages. Trade Paperback $16.95.

Review by Philip K. Jason

The sixteen stories in this collection, carefully selected and translated from Yenta Mash’s life’s work in Yiddish, form a series of quiet explosions. Though they sometimes cry out, the voices are strangely subdued, recording as they do life behind the Iron Curtain in the decades of Soviet strangulation of subject peoples. Communities in Bessarabia, Moldova, and Siberia were at best unofficial prisons for aspiring souls and curious minds and at worst, official ones. For the surprisingly large, if relatively unknown, Jewish communities, the burdens included that of anti-Semitism.

For some, including Mash, immigration to Israel during and after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the 1970s was a mixed blessing. There was so much that was unfamiliar, so much to get used to. More importantly, there was so much to remember before the memories would vanish.

In one story in this collection, Mash takes us into the lives of two young women, foresters working long hours for a bare subsistence. They cut down trees, prepare the trunks and branches for usable lumber, and carry them to be examined by their boss. The narrator is dependent on her more skillful coworker, Riva, without whom she would be lost. It’s the dead of winter, and there is no expectation of respite from the frozen misery of their lives. These intimates are the family breadwinners. From time to time, they make one another laugh. Though their relationship turns sour in later years, readers are left with their strength and indomitable spirits. What’s enchanting in this story and others is the comfortable way in which the characters carry their Jewish selves—with a mixture of knowledge and habit that sometimes seems more nourishing than any other part of their existence. . . .

To see the full review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council site, click here: On the Landing

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Exploring Sholem Aleichem’s double life as author and character

The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevya,  by Jeremy Dauber. Shocken/Nextbook. 480 pages. $28.95.

Sholem Aleichem rose to prominence in his lifetime, but as biographer Jeremy Dauber is at great pains to demonstrate, he rose to even greater fame in the many decades that followed his death. This phenomenon was due in large part to the several serviceable collections of his stories in English translation, to the revivals of his plays, and, eventually, to the grand Broadway and cinematic renderings of the interplay among Tevye the milkman, his wife and (especially) his children. The success of “Fiddler on the Roof” eventually opened the door to serious assessments of Sholem Aleichem’s substantial, foundational achievements.  DauberSHOLEMALEICHEM

To underscore the theatrical – or is it the dramatic? – nature of Sholem Aleichem’s life and career, both during and after the writer’s lifetime, Dauber harnesses his colorful, fact-filled chapters into the structure of a five-act play. Not only is this teeming full-length exploration of Sholem Aleichem’s person-hood and achievement presented as both melodrama and tragicomedy, it is also framed by an “Overture: Setting the Scene” and a lengthy epilogue in 10 brief scenes that follow the posthumous life, or “afterlife,” of the subject’s works.

Dauber doesn’t miss a chance to extend his theatrical motif. Each chapter captures the phrasing of Victorian episodic fiction and perhaps a bit of silent movie placard writing. For example, Chapter 13 is headed “In Which Our Hero Reads the Newspapers in Yiddish and Becomes a Media Star (1899-1903).” All the other chapters also begin with “In Which Our Hero …”

Jeremy Dauber

Jeremy Dauber

These trappings, at once charming and humorous, are also thematic. Dauber is concerned with art and artifice, and he underscores the various ways in which Sholem Aleichem’s life and art interact. In the beginning, there was the self-creation: A man named Sholem Rabinovich (1859-1916) turned himself into an author-character named Sholem Aleichem. . . .

To see the full review, which is considerably longer than this excerpt, as posted November 8, 2013 in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem

This review is reprinted in the February 2014 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and the Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee).

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THE RISE OF ABRAHAM CAHAN

By Seth Lipsky. Schocken. 240 pages. Hardcover $26.00

Although Abraham Cahan strode like a giant across the stages of world Jewry, western journalism, socialist politics, and labor union ascendency through the first half of the twentieth century, author Lipsky makes it quite clear that Cahan was a man first shaped by the circumscribed Jewish life into which he was born in small-town, nineteenth-century Russia.  LipskyCAHAN

The story of his unforeseeable remaking in New York, a story drawn in part from Cahan’s own memoirs and the parallels to the title character in his classic immigrant novel The Rise of David Levinsky, is told with an eye at once critical and warmly respectful.

Seth Lipsky, formerly editor of the English language edition of The Forward ( Forverts) which Cahan brought to prominence in a three-part career filled with both turmoil and amazing success, emphasizes several main aspects of his subject’s achievement.

Seth Lipsky

First and foremost, he details Cahan’s career as a self-educated, ambitious journalist who brought what was at first a neighborhood newspaper to world-wide stature and a daily circulation that peaked at 250,000. That career included staff, freelance, and guest assignments at many other important newspapers and magazines. For decades, Cahan’s name was everywhere, not only in the Yiddish language press but also in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism. . . .

To see the entire review, forthcoming in Jewish Book World, click here: Rise of Abraham Cahan | Seth Lipsky | Jewish Book Council

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