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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

“On the Eve of Battle” - A Short Story by David Bergelson, 1923, translated from Yiddish by Ellen Kellman

A Ukrainian War of independence  Story by The
Author of The Best of Everything 

1884 Born in Ukraine

1913 Publishes  The Best of Everything - Classic  Work of Yiddish Modernism

1921 Emigrated to Berlin, begins to write for Forward

1934 - concerned over rise of Nazis to power, moves to Berlin, then Soviet Union

1949 - arrested, imprisioned for two years and ultimately tortured to death by Soviet Secret Police for writings preceived as anti-Soviet

A few years ago Yale University Press initiated my interest in Yiddish literature with a very generous gift of books, including The Best of Everything by David Bergelson. In my post from January 14, 2014 I said 

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.

The Ukranian War for Independence, 1917 to 1921, had only ended a few years before “The Eve of Battle” was published.  Bergelson used this setting for several Short Stories published in Forward, all centerjng on a Young Jewish soldier.  There were several competing armied in this war.  There were Ukraine troops seeking independence from Russia, German and Austrian Forces, White Russians, and Bolsheviks.  In part the Ukraine was a battle ground in a war dervived from The Russian Revolution.  The Jewish character joined with The Bolsheviks as they were not preceived as as anti-semetic as the others, and they would feed him.  Plus he plans to desert once the army gets near where his fiancé lives. White Russians were known for vicious anti-Semitic 
pograms.  In the story we can see how little the soldiers cared about ideologies.  

I read this story in s wonderful anthology of Yiddish short fiction,
Have I Got a Story for You - More than a Century of Fiction from the Forward edited by Ezra Glinter with an introduction by Dana Horn was a 2016 finalist for the Jewish Book of the Year.   Founded in New York City in 1897, Forward was the most renowned Yiddish newspaper in the world. For generations it has brought immigrants news of their homelands, recipes, as well as lots of information about how to get along in America.  It also published many works of Yiddish language fiction by some of the greatest writers in the language.  

(You can learn about the history of Forward on their website 

1 comment:

R.T. said...

Thank you for introducing me to the author and anthology. I’ll be looking for both. You so often brighten my day with your postings. Today is now a brighter day.