Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor's Son are the most celebrated characters in all of Jewish fiction. Tevye is the lovable, Bible-quoting father of seven daughters, a modern Job whose wisdom, humor, and resilience inspired the lead character in Fiddler on the Roof. And Motl is the spirited and mischievous nine-year-old boy who accompanies his family on a journey from their Russian shtetl to New York, and whose comical, poignant, and clear-eyed observations capture with remarkable insight the struggles and hopes and triumphs of Jewish immigrants to America at the turn of the twentieth century.
With his supple, intelligent translation, Halkin makes accessible the poignant short stories by the legendary Yiddish humorist Sholem Rabinovich (18591916), who wrote under the nom de plume ``Sholem Aleichem,'' a Yiddish salutation. As Halkin elucidates in his introduction, Tevye's self-mocking but deeply affecting monologues (which inspired the play and film Fiddler on the Roof satisfy on several levels: as a psychological analysis of a father's love for his daughters, despite the disappointments they bring him; as a paradigm of the tribulations and resilience of Russian Jewry and the disintegration of shtetl life at the twilight of the Czarist Empire; and as a Job-like theological debate with God. The 20 Railroad Storiesthe monologues of a traveling salesman and his fellow Jewish travelersdepict Jewish thieves and arsonists, feuding spouses, draft evaders, grieving parents and assimilationists. Like the eight Tevye tales, these unprettified stories of simple people and their harsh realities summon a bygone era, but their appeal and application are timeless. Bringing both groups of tales together for the first time in English, this first volume in Schocken's Library of Yiddish Classics series is an auspicious event. (July)
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January 26, 2009
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