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

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

“Images on a Blank Canvas”.— A Short Story by Blume Lempel

“I am a housewife, a wife, a mother, a grandmother —and a Yiddish writer. I write my stories in Yiddish. Yiddish is in my bones. When I hear my mother’s “Oy!” in my head, I lift my eyes to the heavens and hear God answering me in Yiddish.”  Blume Lempel 

Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure to  link you post on the event home page.  

There is still plenty of time to join us.

 There are lots of very interesting posts from food bloggers, Francophiles, travel bloggers, as well as book bloggers.  Normally I don’t venture far from the international book blog community so for me this event is an excellent way to expand my horizons. 

So far I have posted on

  1. “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” by Blume Lempel, 1978
  2. Vagabond by Colette, 1904
  3. Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles - 2018
  4. “Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - 
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid 2017
THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF
  1. “Cousin Claude” by Blume Lempel
  2. Taste of Paris:A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie
  3. “The Beggar” by Gaito Gazdanov, 1962
  4. “Images on a Blank Canvas” by Blume Lempel

I have three anthologies of Short Stories translated from Yiddish, about sixty different writers.  Looking through the brief included biographies, maybe fiveteen of the authors left their homelands in Eastern Europe between 1929 and 1939, trying to find a country more open to Jews.  Compared to Eastern Europe and Russia, Jews had been left in relative peace in France for five hundred years. Of these writers, about half made it to America before the French began turning over foreign born Jews to the Germans.  Blume Lempel and her husband and children arrived in New York City in 1939.  She loved Paris, was fluent in French and always wanted to return.

I was gratified when my post on a story by Blume Lempel “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” drew attention from event participants.  Many thousands of Eastern European Jews immigrated to France in the 1930s, hoping they would be safer from the Nazis.  

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.

This is the fourth  story by Blume Lempel I am including as part of my participation in Paris in July 2018.  Previously I posted on her 
“A Yiddish Poet in Paris”, love the title, and “Her Last Dance”, about a Yiddish heritage French born woman that was the mistress of the chief of Police of Paris while it was occupied by the Germans. I also posted on a story about a man sent out from Paris to New York City by his hiders after his parents were murdered by the Germans.

In my post on THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF there is a bit of information about what I call Yiddish Paris.

The narrator of “images on a Blank Canvas”, lives in Paris, the time lines are not real clear but well before the Holocaust her family moved from Poland  to Paris.  The story is set long after the war but we dont learn how she escaped being deported to Auschwitz (most all French Jews were sent there).  Her very good friend was captive there when the camp was liberated.  As the story is told she and her friend’s adult daughter are on the way to her funeral in Israel, where she moved later in life.  The power in this dark story is how the Holocaust deformed the spirit of her friend, how twenty years later it drove her to suicide.

Living in Tel Aviv she was shunned because she was a prostitute who lived with an Arab.  

I cannot begin to match descriptive power of Lempel:

“to her eternal rest and remember how gladly I would have relinquished all my worldly ambitions to study in Lemberg. Through the skylight of my Parisian garret I used to look up at the tiny rectangle of heaven that fortune had allotted me and conjure up Zosye’s lush, slumbering garden. How I cursed the fate that had stranded me in Paris on my way to Israel! Zosye did not want to go to Israel, nor did she need to. For her, the vine was abloom with all the brilliant hues of the bejeweled peacock that resides in the dreams of every young woman. How could she have known, as she played the piano, that the civilization of those magical notes was even then writing her people’s death sentence? How could she have known that form and harmony were but the seductive song of the Lorelei, the façade behind which the cannibal sharpened his crooked teeth? Protected and sheltered like the golden lilies in her father’s garden, Zosye could not see those teeth. With the natural power that is the birthright of every living thing, she glowed in the light of the sun. Endowed with all the attributes she needed to thrive and grow, Zosye was primed to scatter her own seeds across God’s willing earth. The pages I turn are blank, as unreadable as the image in a shattered mirror. It occurs to me that the earth to which Zosye is now returning holds the remains of another prostitute, the biblical Tamar, who sat down at the crossroads where fortunes were decided and seduced men with her charms. I search for a spark of Tamar’s desire in the image of Zosye that is anchored deep in my memory. I search for the lust of a whore in her dimples and her rosy, Polish-speaking lips that surely didn’t even know the meaning of the word “prostitute.” I look into her eyes, the reflection of her soul. Her character, unripe, uprooted, is borne by the wind to the four corners of the world. I search for the legacy of modesty passed down through the generations. I search for the set path of her father, and before me another form rises up: her Uncle Shloyme, the Russian. I don’t force this figure to take shape —I let it grow on its own. I relive the terror that his death caused me, which penetrated my dreams long after I’d left my town behind.”

Please excuse the long quote, I want others to feel the depth of Lempel

This story was published in a collection of her work, Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories, named for one of the stories, translated and introduced by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Taub, assembled from two Yiddish language collections published by Lempel.  In my prior posts on Lempel there are links  to two very good lectures by the translators. I thank them for bringing Lempel to the Yiddish lacking literary world.

Mel u

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

Her use of language is exquisite. Thank you for introducing her to me in this series of posts.