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, September 18, 2015

"Apocalypse" by Jacob Dinezon. ( from Memories and Scenes, Shetl, Childhood, Writers, edited and introduced by Scott Davis, translated from Yiddish by Tina Lunson)

Home Page of The Jacob Dinezon Project

"“My dream,” says Scott Davis, “is to see an English translation of Jacob Dinezon’s stories sitting on the bookshelf beside the works of his friends, Sholem Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and I. L. Peretz. And to know that Jacob Dinezon has finally returned to his rightful place as the beloved uncle of modern Yiddish literature.”

I first began reading Yiddish literature in translation in December of 2012.  The alleged theme of my blog is literary works about people who lead reading centered lives and I quickly came to see how central reading was to Yiddish culture.  ( I know there are lots of complicated notions packed into the expression "Yiddish Culture" but this not the place and I am far from the person to talk at length on them.)

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  In the stories of pogroms by I. L. Peretz a terrible history was brought to life with incredible depth and feeling.  These two writers along with Sholem Abramovitsh whom I have not yet read are considered the classic must read Yiddish writers.  Of course the issue in any literary culture of whose work endures is only partially based on merit, writers come in an out of fashion.  I think in the case of a literature like Yiddish from a partially destroyed culture dependent on translations for works to be read this is very much true.  Of course most publishers are shy to produce the works of relatively unknown writers in translation for fair to them business reasons,  

Thanks to the selfless dedication and strongly focused work of Scott Davis, Jacob Dinezon (1851 to 1919-Warsaw - I urge all to read the very informative webpage on Dinezon I link to at the start of this post for background information on Dinezon and his relationships with other now much better known writers) Dinezon will soon become a canon status Yiddish writer.

There a good number of short stories and some posts more like essays in Memories and Scenes, Shetl, Childhood, Writers- Jewish Stories by Jacob Dinezon edited and marvelously introduced by Scott Davis, with translations by Tina Lunson.  Over all I think anyone already into Yiddish literature needs this book and it is probably an excellent starting point for neophytes.  My custom in posting on a collection of stories is to talk about the works in the collection one at a time and I will follow that here.  

Apocalypse" is set in a Polish shtetl, a small mostly Jewish community. This is a delightful story, hilarious at times, very poignant at others.  It focuses on Mehulemis, a teacher and a widower.awaiting the coming of his third wife.  He spends a lot of his time reading old texts, arguing with other men at the prayer house.  It was fascinating to sit in as he argued with his friend Fighl, supported by the earning from a store his wife owns. They began to debate as to whether or not Rothchild really existed, if he was as rich as claimed, and if he was buying up land in Palestein for a homeland for Jews.  Mehulemis decides he will seek out Rothchild and ask him for money.  His friend tells him he is crazy.  He starts out on a Quixote like quest through Poland which takes a very dark turn.  I want to quote enough from the text to give you a feel for the delightful style.

"Apolacypse" is a first rate story, there is also a lot to be learned about Yiddish history in the story.  The question of the wealth and even existence of Rothchild takes us deeply into a lot of things.  Davis conveniently provided a vocabulary of  Yiddish terms at the end of the collection.

Yiddish literature is one of the great treasures of the reading life.  I salute Scotf Davis and Tina Lunson for making another great Yiddish writer easily accessible.  

"Scott Hilton Davis is a storyteller, playwright, and collector of Russian and Eastern European Jewish short stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Convinced of the historical, cultural, and ethical significance of stories by Sholem Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, and the lesser-known writer, Jacob Dinezon, Scott now uses storytelling and playwriting to bring works by these beloved Jewish writers to new audiences. He is the author of Souls Are Flying! A Celebration of Jewish Stories and Half A Hanukkah: Four Stories for the Festival of Lights. Scott is a former public television executive with more than thirty-five years of experience writing, producing, and directing documentaries and dramas. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina."

Tina Lunson is the former administrative director and senior consultant to the Vilnius Program in Yiddish Language and Literature. She worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as an expert consultant, researcher, and translator for several exhibitions, including “The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto,” and served as historical consultant and on-site guide for two Holocaust-era film projects. Tina received her Master of Arts in Jewish History from Baltimore Hebrew University and has completed post-graduate work at Columbia University in Jewish Studies. Her English translations of works in Yiddish include Jacob Dinezon’s Zikhroynes un bilder and Der shvartser yungermantshik, Yizkerbukhs (Holocaust memorial books), and commissioned translations of family letters, personal papers, correspondence, and diaries.

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