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, September 14, 2018

“PACHYSANDRA” - A Short Story by Blume Lempel -first published in Yiddish in 1981, translated in 2016 by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub







Yesterday as I was looking through a collection of Short Stories by Blume Lempel (pictured above).  I found a  story with the mysterious title of “Pachysandra”. I wonder what in Ashkenazi culture does this mean.  Does it go way back to

the Babylonian disporsa?  Is it a reference to an event in  
medieval Belarus?  

I was as far off in my expectations as i could be.  Set maybe in the 1930s in America, Pachsyandra is an African American woman.  It reads as if it might have been written by Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, or Zora Neale Hurston.  

She has deeply retreated into the scriptures, taking refuge in her faith from a deep guilt she feels over having sworn on her faith to a lie to prevent her adult son from murdering his wife by telling him falsely that she was not an adultress. He was ready to kill his wife and the lie his mother told prevented this.

The pain of this has hurt her so much.  She talks to herself, speaking Biblical verses:


“As soon as she opened her eyes in the morning and remembered who and where she was, her lips began to move —not just with any words, but with verses from the Bible. The first verse that came to mind and fully penetrated her consciousness would stay with her all day long, to be recited over and over from morning to night. Pachysandra did not select her own material. Biblical texts and images flooded her imagination, adapting themselves to her moods, which shifted in reaction to the weather, or to an argument with her son Tom, or to some distant pagan source whose origins she did not know and did not want to know. Pachysandra believed in the holy patriarchs of the Old Testament. She knew they were looking after her because they came without premeditation or prayer. They arose from the depths of her spirit, filling every corner of her room, settling on the bed, giving her advice on what to cook and what to eat. When she laughed, they laughed with her; when she cried, they cried, too.”

She sees her self as like Sarah, Abraham’s wife,  in The Old Testament:

“Pachysandra saw parallels between Sarah’s fortunes and her own. She too had rescued her only son from the butcher knife that he himself had sharpened. She too had crossed the river into a foreign land —and not just one river, but many rivers, many seas, until the very last wandering that brought her from South Carolina to cold, alien Brooklyn. Pachysandra yearned for South Carolina. She missed the wide open universe, as wide and open as God had created it. Every morning when she went shopping for her son Tom, she made a detour through Prospect Park so that she could luxuriate in the scent of the grass, the trees, the water.”

She moved from her home in South Carolina to Brooklyn to live with her son.  Maybe in the mass migrations of African Americans from the south, where their ancestors were slaves, there is a parallel to the escape of Jews from Egypt. In Pachysandra’s speaking verses from the bible the recitation of passages from the Torah.

This is a wonderful story, showing great insight and empathy.


Blume Lempel

Born 1907 in The Ukraine

Moved to Paris in 1929, to be near her brother who lived there.

While in Paris she worked as a furrier and attended night school.


1939- having married and had two children, her Family moved to New York State, out of concern over rising anti-Semiticism.  Many in her extended Family died in The Holocaust as would she and her Family had they not left.  In 1942 French authorities in a compromise with the Germans, agree to arrest and turn over to the Germans all foreign born Jews. 

1943- begins to publish with a Short Story, all her writings were in Yiddish.  In part this was her way of defying those who wanted the magnifcient Yiddish Cultural tradition destroyed.

In 1950 the Family locates permanently in Long Island.

1999 passes away.


1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

Your guesses seem reasonable to me - it seems like the title was trying to trick you by being a proper name! I enjoyed your thoughts on this one and like the sound of it being like Welty's stories.