Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, January 3, 2014

The End of Everything by David Bergelson (1913) The Reading Life Yale Yiddish Project

The End of Everything by David Bergelson (1913) is considered one of the masterworks of Yiddish literature.   It centers on the lives of newly rich Russian Jews trying to preserve their cultural identity in a country in great turmoil, Tsarist Russia.  Bergelson's title is itself a chilling prophecy of what was to happen to most of the people the novel is about.  

The central character is Mirel Hurvits, a beautiful educated woman who tries to rebel against an arranged marriage while staying within the confines of her culture.  The novel goes deeply into social and marriage customs, economic realities, family life and sex roles of the period.   Mirel is more or less forced by her parents into a marriage of convenience to a man that revolts her.  We see her disintegration as the story line progresses.

This is a depressing and at times predictable storyline but it is essentially reading for anyone into Yiddish Literature or with an interest in Soviet Jews.   

From the web page of The Yale University Press

Originally published in 1913, When All Is Said and Done is one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Considered David Bergelson’s masterpiece, it was written in Yiddish and until now has been unavailable in a complete and accurate English translation. This version by acclaimed translator Joseph Sherman finally brings the novel to a wide English-speaking audience.


Bergelson depicts the lives of upwardly mobile, self-aware nouveaux riche Jews in the waning years of the Russian Empire. The central character, Mirel Hurvits, is an educated, beautiful woman who embodies the conflict between tradition and progress, aristocracy and enterprise. A forced marriage of convenience results in Mirel’s emotional disintegration and provokes a confrontation with the expectations of her pious family and with Jewish tradition. In a unique prose style of unsurpassable range and beauty, Bergelson reduces language to its bare essentials, punctuated by silences that heighten the sense of alienation in the story.

A Russian Yiddish novelist and a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, David Bergelson (1884–1952) was one of the thirteen defendants at the infamous trial of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee held in Moscow in May 1952.   

I have decided to participate in The Russian Literature Challenge.  I am currently rereading  War and Peace and intend to read more Russian born Yiddish writers.  I have a collection of new translations of short stories by Tolstoy and also hope to get to that in 2014.  

The challenge is being hosted by Behold the Stars.  There are various degrees of commitment.  I hope to read at least six.

If you have any suggestions for Russian Yiddish writers, including Ukrainians, please let us know.

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