Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem (1905)

Sholem Aleichem (1859 to 1916, Ukraine) is by far, based on my limited knowledge, the most known to the wider world of Yiddish language writers.  His work is the basis for one of the most popular movies of all time Fiddler on the Roof.  I wish he would have lived to become hugely rich from the movie's success.  

The Letters of Menakhem - Mendel & Sheyne - Sheyndl , an epistolary novel, is my first exposure to the work of Sholem Aleichem.  The letters that make up the novel are between a man and wife in early 20th century Ukraine.   It is just so funny I laughed out loud as I read it.   The man has left home to make money to send home for the support of his long suffering wife and their many children.   The woman is a conservative stay at home grounded in folk wisdom and the family wife and mother where the husband is bolder and though he probably loves his wife, finds his home life a bit boring.  He ,tries six different occupations from stock broker, writer,real estate sales, loan factoring and insurance sales man to match maker.  He starts each new occupation with a letter to his wife saying how he was cheated in his previous occupation but the new venture he had undertaken will bring the family riches. His wife writes back, with each letter starting with a loving greeting, and tells him how terrible things are at home, how her mother tells her she married a fool, and how he is an idiot with a bloated ego.  As I read this I could not help but see myself getting letters like this had this been me and my wife.  I felt it  when she kept calling him "your highness".  I found the ending terribly sad.  

The Letters of Menakhem - Mendel & Sheyne - Sheyndl is only about 100 pages.  In addition to being Mel Brooks funny it gives a brilliant portrait of a marriage and a look at Jewish life in the Ukraine.  I am looking forward to reading soon Motl, The Cantor's Son, a much longer work.  The volume contains a very good introduction. 

Mel u 


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Oh yes, this is a good one. The husband is funny, the wife if anything funnier.

And what a picture of the world the characters lived in!

The book is well paired with Motl, too. Another side of the coin.

mel u said...

Amateur Reader - for sure looking forward to Motl, The Cantor's Son