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





Thursday, February 28, 2019

All the Time We've Left to Spend - A Short Story by Alyssa Wong, Nebula and World Fantasy Award Winner - published 2018





Gateway to Alyssa Wong on The Reading Life






In May last year I first read a story by Alyssa Wong, a multi awarded Science Fiction and Fantasy writer.  I was really amazed by “Hungry Daughters and Starving Mothers”.   I was simply blown away by this story.

“A few days ago I as kindly given a review copy of a forthcoming soon anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman.  I was completely shocked by how much I liked the beautiful lead story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong.  Last month I first read the surrealistic short fiction of Leonora Carrington.  If April 2017 was for me the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington, then quite possibly May will be observed as the month I first read Alyssa Wong.  I know this sounds hyperbolic but I can for sure visualize Leonora being stunned by "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, i certainly was.  I was on first reading mesmerized by the sheer elegance of Wong's prose combined with the very ugly and evil story she tells.”  From my post of May 17, 2017

In short sequence I went onto read two more of her stories ( my posts include links to the stories).  As often happens I got distracted and up until this week had not had the intriguing pleasure of reading of her stories since January of 2018.   

Wong self identifies as having an interest in exploring alternative sexuality via S/F and Fantasy. All three of the stories I have so far posted upon involve romances between women, all involve violence.  Today’s story, “All The Time We Have Left to Spend” is set in a special kind of “love hotel”.  The sexual providers are robots, designed to look like dead media stars, with as much as possible of the personality and memory of the celebrity down loaded into a crafted to look very like the subject robot.  If you ever had a fantasy of having sex with a now dead rock star, bring your money to the Aidoru Hotel:

“No one in their right mind came to the Aidoru Hotel. But those who did always came for a very specific reason. Mostly, in Ruriko’s opinion, that meant a horde of superfans, otakus, and would-be stalkers who wanted a night to do whatever they pleased with the celebrity of their choice. The disreputable folks from Kabukicho who ran the Aidoru Hotel didn’t care, as long as their clients paid handsomely for the privilege.”

Ruriko has a monthly standing two hour date with Yume, or the robot version of her 


“Ten years ago, Yume Ito had been one of the four founding members of IRIS, one of the country’s top teen idol groups. Her face, along with Miyu Nakamura’s, Kaori Aoki’s, and Rina Tanaka’s, had graced advertisements all over Tokyo, from fragrance ads to television commercials to printed limited-edition posters. But then the real Yume Ito had died, along with the real Miyo Nakamura, Kaori Aoki, and Rina Tanaka, and now all that was left was an algorithm of her mannerisms and vocal patterns, downloaded into an artificial skin and frame.
“No music, please,” said Ruriko. Her voice sounded strange and small, but too loud at the same time. “Just talking.”
Yume, dead ten years, rested her hands on Ruriko’s shoulders. Her fingers traced the cloth mask that hung from one ear like a wilted flag. She tucked it back over Ruriko’s reassembled mouth. “Whatever you want us to do.”

There is a lot to ponder in this story.  I will leave the plot action untold.  I wondered why people were willing to pay large sums for sex with robots.  She has a male friend who goes with her.  She thinks he does really nasty things to his female clone of a rock star.

The story merits serious attention.  I wondered what kind of hospital downloaded the personality and memory of Celebrity patients on their death bed into a robot host.  I read it twice, I suggest you do the same.

Alyssa Wong’s stories have won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Locus Award. She was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her fiction has been shortlisted for the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and Shirley Jackson Awards. She lives in California.

We look forward to following the career of Alyssa Wong for years to come


Mel u
Oleander Bousweau 














Monday, February 25, 2019

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, 2000, 675 pages





The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon has been on my to be read list for sometime.  When I received notice the Kindle edition was for sale for $2.95, down from $10.95 I hit purchase now.

I found the first half of the book very interesting, as the work procceded on I almost quit reading.  Only Chabon is so creative I did not want to miss out on what might come next so I finished it, am glad to have done so.

Kavalier enters the story as a young Jewish boy who escaped from Prague with a stopover in Shanghai only to wind up in Brooklyn at the house of his cousin clay.  It is 1935 or so.  The account of how he escaped from Prague is very interesting.  The boys, in their late teens, have never met before but soon find a bond in their love for drawing.  Clay gets his cousin at the company where he works, a publisher of comic books, just starting to get big.  Kavalier is very worried about his family left back in Prague.  Compressing a lot, the cousins start a comic book series called The Escapist.  The Escapist is a Nazi fighting super hero with Houndini like skills for breaking locks.  The boys gradually develop a very large following, making good money.  

As the war gets nearer, Kavalier develops a hatred for Germans.  This gets him in fights, in one cool interlude he is beaten up by a German boxing champion.  We see a lot of the business and creative side of producing a comic book series.

About half way through their partnership ends.  One boy starts a romance with Rosa Saks, from the department store family.  One slowly accepts he is gay and begins a romance with a man who plays The Escapist in a radio drama.

I will say no more about the second half of the book.  It won the Pulitzer Prize.



I do hope to read his The Yiddish Policemen's Union one day.

Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.  .from Goodreads


Sunday, February 24, 2019

The House Made of Sugar: a short story by Silvina Ocampo, from the collection Thus Were Their Faces | NYRB Classics










The House Made of Sugar: a short story by Silvina Ocampo, from the collection Thus Were Their Faces | NYRB Classics - 2015

1903 to 1993, born and died in Buenas Aires

Today's story is included in Thus Were Their Faces and can be read online at the link above.

My main purpose in this posting is to provide interested readers a link to the lead story in The New York Review of Books 2015 collection of short stories by the marvelous Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo.  Readers of Lenora Carrington will see strong affinities, both began as visual artists with works influenced by Surrealism.

A husband and wife, recently married, are the focus of "The House of Sugar".  The wife has an unusual superstition, she refuses to live in a house or apartment anyone else had ever inhabited.  She thinks the spirits of such persons will take over her life.  The husband cannot find such a never before lived in place in his price range.  So he lies to his wife and tells her a house, one that looks like it is made from sugar, fits her wishes.  There is, of course, trouble coming.  The house comes with a phone and they must keep the same number as the prior occupants.  Things get very interesting when a caller insisted to speak with an old resident, Viola.  Gradually the lives of the couple seem to take on, just as the wife feared, elements of the other couple.  Things get exciting when we find out Viola is cheating on her husband who shows up at the house, he had moved out leaving Viola there.  When he meets the husband, he assumes, he is his wife's lover.

A fun story.


THUS WERE THEIR FACES
SELECTED STORIES
by Silvina Ocampo, introduction by Helen Oyeyemi, a new translation from the Spanish by Daniel Balderston, preface by Jorge Luis Borges



From the NYRB website

Silvina Ocampo (1903–1993) was born to an old and prosperous family in Buenos Aires, the youngest of six sisters. After studying painting with Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger in Paris, she returned to her native city—she would live there for the rest of her life—and devoted herself to writing. Her eldest sister, Victoria, was the founder of the seminal modernist journal and publishing house Sur, which championed the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, and in 1940 Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo were married. The first of Ocampo’s seven collections of stories, Viaje olvidado (Forgotten Journey), appeared in 1937; the first of her seven volumes of poems, Enumeración de la patria (Enumeration of My Country) in 1942. She was also a prolific translator —of Dickinson, Poe, Melville, and Swedenborg—and wrote plays and tales for children. The writer and filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky once wrote, “For decades, Silvina Ocampo was the best kept secret of Argentine letters.” Silvina Ocampo: Selected Poems is published by NYRB/Poets.

Oleander Bousseau


Friday, February 22, 2019

Eli the Fanatic - A Short Story by Philip Roth - 1959 - First Published in Commentary







1933 Newark, New Jersey

2018 Manhattan

I first heard of today's story, "Eli the Fanatic" by Philip Roth in one of the interviews with Holocaust survivors in THE Montreal Shtetl MAKING HOME AFTER THE HOLOCAUST Zelda Abramson & John Lynch (a book all into post Holocaust Jewish history should read).  An elderly woman was talking about the level of interest in the Holocaust among long term Jewish residents of Montreal.  She remarked that interest seemed to pick up in 1960 with the publication of several works on the Holocaust, including "Eli the Fanatic".  I have not read nearly an adequate amount of work by Roth and was happy to find this work readable online.  (It is included with Goodbye, Columbus)

The story deals with an old tension  among Jews, first begun in Europe long ago and carried over to America and Canada.  Jews fully  assimilated to the countries in which they and their ancestors lived help new arrivals, called Greenhorns in NYC and Montreal and "Asian Jews" in Europe, but they also feared the Gentiles would classify them all together.  In Europe this was a potential death sentence.  Our story takes place in New York City.  An orthodox Jew has opened a school in his house teaching boys the Torah.  He dress as would a Russian Rabbi.  Eli is an attorney, successful and totally "Americanized".  The local Jewish community wants the school shut down and the teacher to wear a business suit.  The school is against technical zoning regulations but if the teacher just abandons his traditional clothes he can run his school.  Something very interesting and quite unexpected happens when Eli leaves  a suit at the teacher's house.  

This is a very early Roth fiction.  Like much of his it deals with what it is to be a Jew in America.

Mel u






Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling,” - A Short Story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar









“The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” - A Story from White Elephants Dancing by Chaya Bhuvaneswer - 2018

“His wife was still young, stubborn enough to run up the train steps and then come down looking worried, roaming the street. She would be looking for Shree, always for her. Shree, of course, would be safe and comfortable. Oblivious—but not in a serene way, not like the god Vishnu asleep on a serpent in the cold deep. To Gopi, rather, his daughter was the serpent, rapaciously devouring them. At fifty-eight, Gopi shouldn’t have felt like an old man. His wife Lakshmi’s face was as young-looking and round as it had been on their wedding day. Though she looked more like a younger sister, people knew her to be his young wife. His hold was too possessive anything else. From the beginning he had worried not only that she would outlive him, but that she would have to care for him as an invalid. There was nearly a twenty-year age difference between them. To some it seemed like a scandal, a thirty-eight-year-old bachelor finally marrying a nubile, intelligent nineteen-year-old girl from a good family. It was Gopi’s reward for his father’s years of company service and longstanding friendship with Lakshmi’s father. But her father knew, after all, that he would love her to his death, care for her, shelter her with the last scrap of clothing he possessed, like Nala in the Mahabharata, who took off his one remaining garment and used it to cover his beautiful, half-naked wife once they were exiled into poverty.”

Today’s story, “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” will resonate with any less than saintly parent who cannot always escape wondering if their life has been ruined by the burden of a developmentally developed child.  The story, set in Elmhurst, New Jersey centers on Mr. Neelakanta Vaikuntashyamala Gopisundaram Iyer, Gopi to his friends, his wife Lakshmi, their son and their daughter Shree.  Shree is 12 but mentally is five, the doctors say she will never develop past that age.  She moved to New Jersey first then sent for him, his wife teaches special needs children,from a proud family back in India, of lawyers and engineers,he has not worked in years. Gopi is old before his time. For a while, he had a small inheritance but now his wife supports the family.  Their son is attending a quality private school back home, sponsored by relatives.  His days are taken up with domestic minutia and caring for Shree.
As one would, his wife and he are terribly worried about what will happen when she grows to adult years, never can she marry but will always be someone’s dependent.

Shree has committed to memory a traditional myth, a liturgical prayer which she often recites, loudly, normally she must seek permission to speak in a higher volume, somehow these myth induces Gopi to project ancient depths on his situation. As she did in “White Dancing Elephants”, Bhuvaneswar interlays motifs from South Asian traditions over the lifes of immigrants living in London or New Jersey.

There is a lot to ponder and enjoy in this story.  The ending is chilling.  

This story is one of seventeen in Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s highly regarded debut collection, White Dancing Elephants.  It is the third one upon which i have posted.  I anticipate posting on several more, quite possibly all seventeen.  

Mel u








Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Envy: Or, Yiddish in America - by Cynthia Ozick - A Novella - first published November 1969 - Commentary Magazine





“A little while ago there were twelve million people—not including babies—who lived inside this tongue, and now what is left? A language that never had a territory except Jewish mouths, and half the Jewish mouths on earth already stopped up with German worms. The rest jabber Russian, English, Spanish, God knows what. Fifty years ago my mother lived in Russia and spoke only broken Russian, but her Yiddish was like silk. In Israel they give the language of Solomon to machinists. Rejoice—in Solomon's time what else did the mechanics speak? Yet whoever forgets Yiddish courts amnesia of history. Mourn—the forgetting has already happened. A thousand years of our travail forgotten. Here and there a word left for vaudeville jokes. Yiddish, I call on you to choose! Yiddish! Choose death or death. Which is to say death through forgetting or death through translation. Who will redeem you? What act of salvation will restore you? All you can hope for, you tattered, you withered, is translation in America! Hannah, you have a strong mouth, made to carry the future—“

Envy: Or Yiddish in America  shows clearly the brilliance of Cynthia Ozick.  My main purpose in this post is to have it included on The Reading Life.  

About four years ago a contact at Yale University Press gave me the ten volume Yale Yiddish Library (edited by scholars and sponsored by the Yiddish Book Center).  As I began to read these works, starting with The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son by Sholem Aleichem, I knew I had come on a culture that truly lived the Reading Life.  Interpreting the Torah was central to Eastern European Jews.  Scholars were greatly respected.  The Holocaust was a war on this culture and by proxy all of us into the Reading Life.   Yiddish culture has older and deeper roots than Anglo-American.  Since then I have kept reading Yiddish Literature and Holocaust studies.  Envy: Or Yiddish in America is an attempt to locate Yiddish literature in post Holocaust America, New York City.  It asks did Yiddish die in the Holocaust?  How is it transformed by Translation?  What does it mean to be a Jew after the Holocaust?

The narrator of the story is a Yiddish writer, he struggles to make a living and is consumed by jealousy over the success of another writer, some say the famous writer is modeled on Isaac Singer.  The famous writer has a translator, our narrator desperately wants to be translated into English.  His envy consumes him.

There just is so much depth in this story.  It can be seen as an attack on American Jews, circa 1969, forgetting the history of pain and suffering.  The narrator is at first elated when he finds the young niece of the other writer, born  in America, speaks Yiddish.  Of course at first he hopes he has found his translator.  Things do not, of course work out.

I will for sure revisit this story.

As of now I have access to eight short fictions by Ozick and two collections of essays.  

I highly recommend this essay 

History, Freedom, and Laughter in Cynthia Ozick’s “Envy; or, Yiddish in America” by Menachem Feuer



Cynthia Ozick’s essays, novels, and short stories have won numerous prizes and awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Straus Living Award, four O. Henry First Prizes, the Rea Award for the Short Story, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has been translated into most major languages. She lives in Westchester County, New York, and recently ventured into playwriting with an adaptation of her own The Shawl...from her publisher 

Mel u














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Monday, February 18, 2019

The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt - 2009. - 875 Pages






The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children’s Book is a long, complex challenging book.  I loved it.  It deals with the interrelated lives of several English families from late Victirian times up through World War One.  (It for sure brought back very fond memories of a long afternoon in The Victoria and Albert Museum, then known as The South Kensington Museum.)

As you would expect, all the major literary review sources did features on The Children’s Book.  Everyone of course praised it but all found something negative to say.  (This seems almost required in press reviews.). I will just make a few random Observations about some of my favourite aspects of the book.

The center of the book is the large Family of a well known writer of children’s stories, Olivia Wellwood. some say she is loosely based upon Edith Nesbit.  She is from a very artistic family involved with progressive causes such as seeking the right to vote for women.  She writes stories for each of six children (several are i included and they are all a lot of fun, late Victorian gothic).  We follow the Development of the children up to the end of WW One.  There are also other families.  We discover dark secrets.  There is even a German family and a trip to prewar Berlin.  We are reminded the European monarchs are  all cousins. The family knows J. M.Barrie and a night watching Peter Pan on the London stage is a central element.  The World War One Poet Rupert Brooke is a close friend of one of the characters and Oscar Wilde shows up at a huge international fair in Paris.  The children discovering their direction in life and their sexuality is very well shown.  We see the hypocrisy in the class snobbish attitudes of the Fabian society members, touting social equality while enjoying a very privileged existence.
.

Byatt helped me grasp the impact of history on the characters in chapters devoted to current events, mostly in The UK.  We know terrible events are coming.  We kind of have a feel for a Society run by the people in Saki’s stories, way out of their depth.  

One of the very interesting characters is a young man, Philip, who is found as a runaway hiding in the museum.  The Wellwood family takes him in.  He goes on to become an apprentice to a famous potter.  Through him and his sister we do get a window on the poorest of the people of the UK.  I enjoyed seeing Philip and his sister develop.  

The denouement of the book is in the carnage experienced by the children,now grown,  in the fields of France.  We also see how this impacts the women.  I admired the struggle of Dorothy to become a surgeon.

There are enough characters in The Children’s Book for a huge Victorian novel.
There is a great deal to learn about UK society in the book.

The Children’s Book requires a commitment of time and attention on readers. Those willing to give the book what it deserves will be very happy to have encountered it.

In 2013 I read and posted on her Booker Prize Winning Possession. Prior to blogging I read The Biographer’s Tale.

I hope next to read The Virgin in The Garden.

Mel u


























Sunday, February 17, 2019

JORINDA AND JORINDEL - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published September 19, 1959










Jorinda and Jorindel - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first  published September 19, 1959 in The New Yorker

Jorinda and Jorindel - a Grimm's fairy tale, first published by the Grimm Bothers in 1812.  (The animated podcast linked to above is very enjoyable, no translator or reader credit is given.)

Mavis Gallant


Born August 11, 1922 in Montreal

1950- moves to France

September 1, 1951, publishes her first short story (In The New Yorker)

February 18, 2004 - dies in her beloved Paris

I have been reading short stories by Mavis Gallant since 2013.  I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a weekly basis.   I am following along as I can. 

Recently I was delighted to find a collection of sixteen of sixteen mostly set in Canada short stories by Gallant,Home Truths for sale in Kindle format for $1.95. it is now back up to $9.95.  Buried in Print has just reached these stories so I will be reading along on all these works. Today's story is reprinted in that collection.

Just as was the prior featured story, "Thank You for the Lovely Tea", "Jorinda and Jorindel" is set in Canada in the 1930s.  In both stories we see a contrasting of Americans and Canadians.  In this story an American, Mrs Queen lives in Canada and worked as a servant for a wealthy woman.  It seems almost she was dumped  in Canada when her employer moved to California.  Here are her private thoughts:

"Mrs. Queen came out to Canada with Lady Partridge. The wages were low, and she had no stomach for travel, but she was devoted to Lady P. and to Ty-Ty and Buffy, the two cairns. The cairns died, because of the change of air, and after Lady P. had buried them, she went out to her daughter in California, leaving Mrs. Queen to look after the graves. But Mrs. Queen has never taken to Canada. She can’t get used to it. She cannot get used to a place where the railway engines are that size and make that kind of noise, and where the working people are as tall as anyone else."

As I read this story the first time I thought it felt different from most other Gallant stories, it had a strange almost fey feel, like a fairy tale.  The characters are seeming  archetypes.  There is a lot in this story, an American lady escaping prohibition, a titled lady, her move  to California after her dogs are left buried in Canada begs for symbolic ramblings but above all there are children, especially a boy who lives ten months of the year in an orphanage spending two warm months working on his uncle's farm. (Shades of a cross gender myth of Orpheus?) and his female cousin, they are about eight.

I acknowledge when I read this the first time I did not know that Jorinda and Jorindel was a Grimm's fairy tale.  After watching the video of the story, on my second reading I a was trying to see how the stories are related.  In the Grimm Fairy tale, an evil old fairy woman turns beautiful young women into Nightingales and cages them.  She has captured the love of a young man's life.  The story turns on how he gets her released, the fate of the fairy and the sevenhundred women she had turned into Nightingales.

In a way, everyone in the story is captured, some by convention and family, some by poverty, some wealth.  I wonder is the orphan boy a captured Nightingale waiting to be saved?  There is a lot, as there is in all her stories, to think about here.

Mel u







Friday, February 15, 2019

"Yosele" -A Short Story by Blume Lempel. translated from Yiddish by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, 2016





In Image above, upper left Blume Lempel in Paris, to the right Blume and her husband to be in Paris

"So here I sit, writing from right to left. My older brother watches over me, telling me what to write in Yiddish. I can’t very well ask him not to speak in the language of exile. Blessed with the gifts of a prodigy, he knows what I’m thinking. Yiddish is not a language of exile, he answers my unspoken words —it is mame-loshn, our mother tongue. I have tremendous respect for my brother. He believed in the goodness of man, the goodness of all. He met with a double disaster —disappointed first in his faith, then in himself. Now he watches over me, directing my stories from beyond the grave with a sure touch. This is how it
was. This is what happened. So must it be recorded. Each according to his ability must convey what he saw, what he lived through, what he thought, what he felt. You did not survive simply to eat blintzes with sour cream. You survived to bring back those who were annihilated. You must speak in their tongue, point with their fingers" - from The Fate of the Yiddish Writer by Blume Lempel



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.

Her stories are a world class literary treasure.

In a number of works  by Holocaust scholars I have read, the sense of guilt felt by Jews who safely set out the war years in exhile is treated.  Nearly all lost family in the Holocaust.  Lempel upon learning of the murder of her brother, her father and step mother isolated herself in her house for years.  She was finally drawn out by a desirebto tell the stories of the lost and the might have been.  How this happened is explained in this very good article,  

Modern in Autumn
The Belated Discovery of Blume Lempel
Written by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Published Spring 2019 . In Pakn Treger- The Magazine of the Yiddish Book Center.   Linked below




"Yosele" is a very powerful story about Holocaust survivors.  In it Lempel mixes current events with life during the Holocaust.  It is not an easy work to understand.  The central figures are an elderly married couple, their years hiding from the murderers were long passed.  As the story opens, the wife had just fell to her death from their apartment window.

"When Tsirele Zilber fell out of the window and died, neither the radio nor the newspapers reported the news. After all, there’s no limit to the misfortunes that can befall a person. Every day in New York, people are killed, injured, raped, robbed, and burned. Many speed the end by their own hand. There was no doubt that Tsirele’s death was an accident. No one suspected suicide. Yoyne, her husband, did wonder, but he buried the thought deep within himself, along with all his other suspicions."

I really have to recast the plot of this story to any large degree.  When the couple met, Tsirele was delirious with fever, her prior husband and child had been killed by Ukrainian supporters of the Holocaust.  They soon married, the husband, a widower, had an eight year old daughter.  The life long guilt of the wife was her in ability to see the daughter as anything but a poor substitute for her lost son.  She lived with deep guilt over what she deeply felt was an adulterous marriage to Yoyne.

Her husband thinks back to the time they were told by someone that the Germans planned to kill all the Jews.  He at first thought this had to be crazy, his German neighbors were so nice, Germans so civilized.  In future years he had German neighbors in New York City.  He wondered how he would act if things were reversed


"After each encounter with the neighbor, a melancholy overtook him. At night he lay in bed wrestling with the question of what could turn a person into a murder-machine. He wondered whether he himself could ever be part of such a mass psychosis. Would he be able to split open the head of his neighbor’s only son merely because he was German? Would he be able to watch his neighbor’s house burn down and not run to the rescue? Could he set it on fire himself and watch to see how his neighbor reacted? These macabre thoughts kept him wide awake until he swallowed a pill that would transport him from nightmarish reality to nightmarish dream."

We learn the truth about death of Tsirele as the story closes.

Lempel takes us deeply into the lasting impact of the Holocaust, sometimes a victim will linger on fifty years, then die.

(This story was originally published in 1986.)

Mel u



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