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, May 23, 2019

Dance of the Demons by Esther Singer Kreitman - 1936, translated from Yiddish by her son Maurice Carr 1954 - introduction by Ilan Stavans

Dance of the Demons by Esther Singer Kreitman - 1936, translated from Yiddish by her son Maurice Carr 1954 - introduction by Ilan Stavans, this edition was published in 2016.  

Esther Singer Kreitman, from a very distinguished Rabbinical family, was the older sister of Issac Baseuis Singer and Israel Joshua Singer.  Issac won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.  Israel wrote a truly great novel The Brothers Ashkenazi chronicling Jewish life in Lodz, Poland.  Growing up the brothers received an extensive traditional education and as was normal, Esther was just expected to marry and have children.

March 31, 1891 -Bilgoraj, Poland

1912 - unhappily pushed into an arranged marriage to a diamond cutter, she joins her husband's family in Antwerp, Belgium

1914 - driven by the events of World War One, she and her husband move permanently to London

1936 - Publishes The Dance of Demons

June 13, 1954 - passes away in London

In Dance of Demons (originally titled in translation as Deborah) Kreitman marvelously takes us into the world of Jewish Warsaw and Polish Shtetls in the years prior to World War One.  The novels of her famous brothers focus on the lives of men, women are found as mothers, sisters, daughters, wives (normally in an arranged marriage), servants, cooks, and sometimes mistresses but not as central characters.  Dance of Demons turns that around.  We follow the development of Deborah.

She comes from a well known Rabbinical family.  Her father is a highly regarded Torah scholar and her brother attends a top academy.  Deborah receives little formal training but she develops a love for secular literature from books she found hidden in the kitchen.

Her parents were eager to arrange a marriage for her.  Enter a stock Yiddish character, the marriage broker.  Deborah is matched with a diamond cutter from Antwerp, Beligium.  Her parents sees this as a great match.  In spite of Deborah's strongly expressed distaste for the idea of the marriage, she is forced into the match.  It turns out to be a disaster on all levels, soon the diamond business in Antwerp collapses and her husband has little work.

In a very interesting segment, prior to the marriage and just before the war, Deborah becomes infatuated with a Polish Marxist.  The unrest and poverty of Warsaw is very well developed.  We see even among Marxists women have a secondary role.  

There is a lot in this novel.  I recommend it both for heritage readers as well anyone who enjoys a good novel

I purchased this on sale for $2.95, it is back up to $10.95.

Dance of the Demons was the inspiration for the Barbara Streisand movie Yentl

Dance of the Demons is a  major work of feminist Yiddish literature.

Ambrosia Bouswesu

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

I didn't know Yentl was based on a book (I should have guessed - so many good films ARE): thanks for introducing us to yet another impressive Yiddish writer.