Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years, is one of my favorite book blog events. It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.
About a year ago I received the very generous gift of The Yale University Yiddish Library, a wonderful collection of ten volumes containing many of the core Yiddish language writers. There is great, wise, terribly sad and very funny literature in these volumes. I have read the majority of the works and I found myself in great sympathy for these writers, devotees of the reading life. Some of the writers left Russia, the Ukraine, and Poland before the holocaust began, some did not.
I received not too long ago a digital review copy of Shocking Paris, Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse. My knowledge of the visual arts is weak but I knew these were famous early 20th Century Artists. I took an initial look at the book and saw it focused mostly on Russian Jewish emigrants to Paris, with Yiddish as their basic language so I decided I would read it for Paris in July # 6., hoping it would expand my knowledge of the huge cultural impact of the disporsa of Yiddish Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe and it certainly did this.
The "big" names among Jewish emigrant painters in Paris in the early 20th century were Chaim Soutine, Modigliani, and Chagall. Meisler kind of plunges right into things, assuming the reader already has a good understanding of the early 20th century French art and Yiddish history. He begins at once talking about Chaim Soutine (1893 to 1943, born Balarus, moved to Paris 1913) without really providing any background as to why he should be the focus of this book. In a way it seems this book does not know who it is for, those with an advanced knowledge will find little new and neophytes in this area, like me, will have to carefully read on to avail themselves of the depth of Meisler's knowledge. Measler clearly is an expert in this field but his exposition could be better organized.
I am glad I read this book. This is partially as I am very interested in the work of Yiddish writers and I easily transferred this over to Yiddish artists in Paris. Once I had read on for a while I was very happy to see Meisler presenting an excellent detailed portrayal of the life styles and artistic development of Jewish emigrant writers in Paris in the early days of the 20th century.
Painting by Chaim Soutine
Modigliani's portrait of Soutine.
Painting by Chagall