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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

“Platonic Love” - A Short Story by Yenta Serdatsky (1948) - translated from Yiddish by Jessica Kirzane

Last month I posted upon two very moving translated from Yiddish short stories, both centred on an isolated lonely Eastern European woman  immigrant now living in a  America.  After reading these two stories by Yente
Serdatsky I was delighted to find her story “Platonic Love”, wonderfully translated by Jessica Kirzane posted online (at the link above).  

“Rosh Hashanah” is about a very lonely socially isolated Jewish immigrant woman who on the culturally very important holiday Rosh Hashanah, feels an almost overwhelming sense of longing for the old days back home, surrounded by family.  She knows she hurt her mother badly when she abandoned her faith in God.  Her American friend, a woman she works with, takes her out on the town to raise her spirits.

“Two Heads”, I like this reading life story so much I placed a quote from it in my side bar, is about a young immigrant woman living in a big city rooming house.  Her only joy in her life is in Reading.  The long empty next door apartment has just become occupied.  She cannot help but wish it is a man who loves books as much as she does.  The ending is really powerful.

“Platonic Love”  centers on a lonely Russian woman, now living in America (I think the reader may assume these stories are set in New York City.). She is highly cultured and lived with her aunt.  She is separated from her husband, back home. She works in a bookstore.  She gets off work at noon on Saturday but she has gotten into a habit of meeting an American married man for intellectual conversation at a cafe.  This has now been going on for years.

You can read this story in just a few minutes so I will just provide a brief sample of the story:

“The other patrons of the café knew that there was “nothing” going on between the two of them, and this made them all the more curious to know what the unseen bridge was that linked these two lives, these two souls, for a few hours every week.

She was a wealthy young woman, born in Russia. In her home country she had gone to school, and after she graduated she went on to study in Switzerland. There she learned philosophy and all kinds of other academic pursuits, but no trade or profession.

While she was learning she had been very happy. She had made many friends among the students, and clambered over the tall Swiss mountains with a large shawl wrapped around her arms. For a little while she learned how to ride a horse and a bicycle.

Her beauty and athleticism made her very popular and many of the young students were in love with her. She had loved one of them in return and they were married. She had his child, who died after a year. A while later she split up from him and they went their separate ways.”

Yente Serdatsky (the author), neé Raybman (1877-1962) was born in Aleksat, near Kovne (Kaunas), Lithuania. Her first story, “Mirl,” appeared in the Warsaw periodical Der Veg in 1905. Serdatsky immigrated to America in 1907, initially living in Chicago and then New York, where she published stories, one-act plays, and sketches in many Yiddish periodicals across the political spectrum. She served on the staff of the Forverts, and her writing appeared regularly in its pages until 1922. Serdatsky’s selected writings were published in book form in 1913. After a 27-year hiatus, Serdatsky’s work appeared in the Nyu Yorker Vokhnblat from 1949 until 1955. Her fiction and dramatic works often focus on the loneliness experienced by radical intellectual women and are notable examples of feminism in Yiddish fiction.

Jessica Kirzane (the translator) is a PhD Candidate in Yiddish Studies at Columbia University. She holds a BA in English Literature and Jewish Studies from the University of Virginia (2008) and an MA in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University (2011). Her scholarly interests include the representation of marriage in American Jewish fiction and the concept of race in Yiddish fiction. Her translations have appeared in Pakn Treger and The Trinity Journal of Literary Translation.

There is a deep loneliness in these stories, informed by the knowledge you will probably never see your loved ones back home again.  

I offer my great thanks to Jessica Kirzane for this sensitive and elegant translation.  I hope to read more of her work going forward.

Mel u

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a story I would like. Thanks for sharing, and for sharing the link!