THE WORLDS OF SHOLEM ALEICHEM The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye by Jeremy Dauber - 2013
This is the first ever comprehensive biography of Sholem Aleichem, one of the greatest short story writers.
1859 Born in The Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire
1916 Dies in New York City, then part of The U.S.A. His funeral is attended by 250,000
To most people, certainly me a few years ago, Yiddish writers were divided into two categories, Sholom Aleichem and a bunch of authors I have never heard about who i would never have read were it not for Yale University Press giving me a full set of The Yale Yiddish Library. These nine volumes, introduced by top authorities in Yiddish Studies, include some of the great classics.
Among the works were two totally marvelous novels by Sholom Aleichem. All of the works were pre-Holocaust, written in Eastern Europe and Russia. All were by men. As Yiddish speakers left Europe, mostly to NYC then Toronto and Montréal women writers like Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb began publishing in Yiddish. I have talked a bit about the history of Yiddish Literature (running from around 1875 to maybe 2004 with the passing of the last of the emigrated writers) in prior posts. My perception is most seriously into Yiddish Literature, a huge treasure trove of Short Stories, are “heritage readers” seeking ties with the world of their ancestors in Eastern Europe. Behind it is also a powerful message to those who would destroy Jewish Culture, you lose, we win. I read in this area because it is an incredibly wonderful literature. The stories range from heart breaking to funnier than a Mel Brooks movie. Yiddish scholarship has very strong support and thanks to the internet, and maybe especially The Yiddish Book Center, interest is rapidly growing. YouTube has lots of good videos and readings of stories.
Anyway Sholom Aleichem is by far now most known Yiddish writer. He is most famous from the movie Fiddler on the Roof based on his Tevye Cycle, centering on a Russian dairyman and his relationship with his daughters. So far I have read only one story in the series, “Chava”. For sure I agree with those who see it as great literature, perhaps high art.
THE WORLDS OF SHOLEM ALEICHEM The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye by Jeremy Dauber is a very delightful literary biography. Dauber very much brings Sholom Aleichem to life. He presents the Life of the author almost as if were a Yiddish novel. Every chapter title refers to him as “our hero”. Dauber does a wonderful job of blending cultural history, an account of a very event filled life along with commentary about his writings, stories, novels, and plays. He skillfully shows us how his life experiences influenced his work.
Sholom Aleichem married rich, lost a fortune, at times he made very good money from his works.
Dauber helped me understand the economics of the Yiddish Publishing in the period. Aleichem was not just a writer, for a while he published a journal and he when he could supported other writers. We follow him as he moves around in Russia, inspite of Tsarist sponsored anti-Semetic laws and pograms, Aleichem never lost his fondness for Russia, travels all over Poland, then onto New York City. He idolized Charles Dickens and like him he turned to lectures and Public readings to support his family. We see a very complex publishing business in NYC and Warsaw, some publishers were honest and generous, some published his work without permission or compensation. In a good year he made about, in 2018 money, $125,000.
Aleichem in his final years was a super star of the huge New York City and Warsaw Yiddish world. Toward the end of his life efforts were initiated by major main stream publishers to go big time with English translations of his work.
Dauber treats us to ten accounts of the impact of his work, from right after his death up to the story behind the production of the plays and then the Fiddler on the Roof movie. I wished he could have basked in the glory.
Sholem Aleichem, the pseudonym of a Russified Jewish intellectual named Solomon Rabinovitz (1859–1916), created many of the most enduring works of modern Yiddish fiction. Born in Pereyaslav, Ukraine, he received a traditional education and lived in Kiev and Odessa before immigrating to New York City. Upon his death in 1916, the New York Times published a front-page obituary, memorializing him as “the Jewish Mark Twain.” More than 100,000 people attended his funeral procession, making it the largest New York City had ever seen. His humorous representations of the rhythms of Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish life have had a lasting influence on modern Jewish literary traditions... From The Yiddish Book Center
JEREMY DAUBER is a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University, where he also serves as director of its Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and teaches in the American Studies program. His previous books include In the Demon’s Bedroom: Yiddish Literature and the Early Modern and Antonio’s Devils: Writers of the Jewish Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature. He lives in New York City. From Penguin Books.
I give my total endorsement to this book. If you are into Yiddish Literature you will be fascinated. If you are not yet a reader, maybe if you are lucky and open to new experiences you will be started on a life time reading experience in Yiddish Literature.
A great resource