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

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Zelmenyaners A Family by Saga Moyshe Kulbak (1929 to 1935, in serialization)

The Zelmenyaners A Family Saga by Moyshe Kulbak was initially published in serial fashion in a Russian Yiddish language monthly publication based in Kulbak's home city,Minsk.   It began in 1929 and finished publication in 1935.  The lead article in the publication in which it appeared  was a laudatory article in observation of the 50th birthday of Josef Stalin.  The book is considered one of the comic masterworks of Yiddish literature.   

The Zelmenyaners A Family Saga is more a series of episodes about the Zelmenyaner family, Russian Yiddish Jews, than a plotted novel.   There were gaps at times of over a year between chapters so maybe Kulbak felt the chapters needed to stand on their own.   The over arching connection of the episodes is the attempt of the family to live according to the collectivist standards of the Soviet Union. There is nothing sharply critical of Soviet society (if there was then Kulbak and the publishers would all have been terribly punished).   The novel turns a lot on the characters and life events of three uncles and their families.  The younger family members, those under twenty, have little memory of life under the Tsar.  There is a good bit of generational conflict.   In a way you could see the theme of the book as about the struggle of the family to maintain their heritage while accepting the demands of living under communism.  

The book is very funny in places, very moving and has a lot to teach us about the times.   Kulbak was a very talented writer.  

I totally endorse this novel and see it as essential reading for anyone with an interest in Yiddish history in Stalin era Russia. 

From The Yale University 

This is the first complete English-language translation of a classic of Yiddish literature, one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century. The Zelmenyaners describes the travails of a Jewish family in Minsk that is torn asunder by the new Soviet reality. Four generations are depicted in riveting and often uproarious detail as they face the profound changes brought on by the demands of the Soviet regime and its collectivist, radical secularism. The resultant intergenerational showdowns—including disputes over the introduction of electricity, radio, or electric trolley—are rendered with humor, pathos, and a finely controlled satiric pen. Moyshe Kulbak, a contemporary of the Soviet Jewish writer Isaac Babel, picks up where Sholem Aleichem left off a generation before, exploring in this book the transformation of Jewish life.

Moyshe Kulbak (1896–1937) was a leading Yiddish modernist poet, novelist, and dramatist. Arrested in 1937 during the wave of Stalinist repression that hit the Minsk Yiddish writers and cultural activists with particular vehemence, and given a perfunctory show trial, Kulbak was shot at the age of 41. Hillel Halkin, an acclaimed translator of Hebrew and Yiddish fiction, is the author, most recently, of Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel and Yehuda Halevi. Sasha Senderovich holds a Ph.D. from the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.

I have decided to participate in The Russian Literature Challenge.  I am currently rereading  War and Peace and intend to read more Russian born Yiddish writers.  I have a collection of new translations of short stories by Tolstoy and also hope to get to that in 2014.  

The challenge is being hosted by Behold the Stars.  There are various degrees of commitment.  I hope to read at least six.

If you have any suggestions for Russian Yiddish writers, including Ukrainians, please let us know.


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