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

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Proustian Uncertainties: On Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time by Saul Friedländer - 2020


Proustian Uncertainties: On Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time by Saul Friedländer - 2020

Proustian Uncertaiainties: On Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time by Saul Friedländer is  book that anyone who has read and seen the greatness of Marcel Proust’s in Search of Lost Time will find fascinating.   The author is attempting to understand the relationship between the narrator of the work and Proust himself.  It is also an exploration of the challenges of just keeping as much of this giant work in your consciousness as you can.  

From his concluding remarks you can sense and for most readers identify with the concerns of Friedläder:

“Each of us, In Search readers, returns to some haunting episodes again and again, and for each of us they may be different. But at some stage we all have to make an effort to remember that it’s not Proust’s story that we follow but that of his Narrator. And yet we sense that as we are enthralled by the unfolding of that life’s description, we recognize a deep layer of authenticity. We can even identify what the author doesn’t want to tell us, or, some other time, what he doesn’t want to tell but hopes that some readers will uncover. It is on that search of the Search that this essay is based. Of course, many questions raised in our text have remained unanswered, but hopefully at least a few may have received some further emphasis.”

There are three central issues explored in looking at the relationship of the Narrator’s self presentation and what Friedländer tells us of the life of Proust.  Friedländer draws on numerous French and English sources but he does draw heavily from Wayne C. Carter’s biography.  Here is an important quote 

“William C. Carter’s more recent biography offers a very nuanced assessment of the proximity between author and Narrator: “In his letters and notes to himself about the novel, Proust usually spoke of the Narrator as ‘I,’ making no distinction between engaged not in writing his autobiography but in creating a novel in which there are strong autobiographical elements. The symbiosis between Proust and his Narrator can be explained by the hybrid origin of the story. Having begun as an essay in which the ‘I’ was himself, as the text veered more and more toward fiction, the ‘I’ telling the story became both its generator and its subject, like a Siamese twin, intimately linked to Proust’s body and soul and yet other” (Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life, 474). Further on in the biography, Carter adds an important comment: “As Proust lived more and more in the world he invented, he came to embody the Narrator rather than the other way around”

There are three central themes explored.  One is the relationship of the Narrator to his mother as this reflects and differs from Proust’s relationship to his own mother.  Friedländer insightfully talks about the Narrator’s longing for a goodnight kiss from his mother.  We are given sufficient biographical data to sharpen our focus.  

Proust never in his own life hid his homosexuality. The Narrator is not a homosexual.  There are several female romantic interests that take up a lot of space in the novel.  There is a lesbian relationship and a prominent gay character.  Friedländer speculates that Proust might have thought that if the narrator identifies as Gay censors and conservative readers might be displeased.  I am not, for what it worth, convinced fully of this but a number of interesting questions are raised.

A big open question for Friedländer is the question of Jewish identity of the Narrator versus Proust himself.  There are anti-Semitic characters in the novel, Friedländer talks about the Dreyfus question in the novel and in the Paris of Proust.

Proustian Uncertainties: On Reading and Rereading In Search of Lost Time by Saul Friedländer added to my understanding of the novel and of

Proust.  I think anyone who has read the novel, especially rereaders, will have wondered what forces shaped the work and the author.

SAUL FRIEDLÄNDER is an award-winning Israeli-American historian and currently a professor of history (emeritus) at UCLA. He was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews, grew up in France, and lived in hiding during the German occupation of 1940–1944. His historical works have received great praise and recognition, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945.

From the publisher’s website - Other Press

“[A] haunting work…Friedländer has always imbued his scholarship with an acute literary sensibility…incisive and quizzical…[an] intimate and subtle book.” —Wall Street Journal

“[A] superb new book…Friedländer, the great historian of Nazi Germany and the Jews and also the author of his own Proustian memoir, When Memory Comes, argues that Proust’s narrator is a ‘disembodied presence unlike that in any novel before,’ and that it’s the relation of that presence to Proust himself that makes the Recherche, with its biting social satire, so unique.” —Times Literary Supplement, Books of the Year

“The pleasure of [Proustian Uncertainties] comes from…the author unspooling thoughts and venturing theories collected over many years about a book he clearly loves…By taking a bird’s-eye view of the novel, Friedländer notices continuities and contradictions that are hard to see from within the teeming thickets of Proust’s prose.” —Harper’s

“[An] excellent volume about In Search of Lost Time and Proust himself.” —Literary Hub

Mel u

The Reading Life

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

“When Eddie Levert Comes “ Short Story by Deesha Philyaw - from her debut collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“When Eddie Levert Comes”. A Short Story 

by Deesha Philyaw - from her debut collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies -2020

Recommended by Rion Amilcar Scott on Electric Literature -December 2020

You may read the story here

Website of Deesha Philyaw

I have seen The Secret Life of Church Ladies on several lists of highly recommended debut short story collections.  I am thankful to Electric Literature for featuring one of the stories from the collection on their website.

The story is narrated by a woman, we never learn her name, who is the primary care giver for her mother who suffers from dementia.  It seems long ago the mother had a one night stand with Eddie Levert,the lead singer in a Philadelphia soul group.  Now she insists that this very day he is coming back for her.  Now the mother is a “church lady” but she had children by three different men, brought strangers home to have sex with while are kids are home and drank to excess.  Then, she “got religion” and quit her old ways.  Then  overtime, we don’t know how long ago, lost her grasp on reality.

We learn a lot about her life, she favors her two sons over her daughter even though they don’t do much to help her.  She seems to most favor her lightest skinned son, whose father was Puerto Rican. Her daughter was much darker.

The daughter is doing well as a real estate agent and investor.  She has a long time boyfriend who seems decent.

Philyaw takes us deeply into the psyche of the mother and daughter.  We see how the church, which does not much interest the daughter, is of paramount importance.   We don’t learn anything about the childhood of the mother, what drove her to multiple partners, to seeing it as 

ok to have loud sex at home, and to judge other African Americans by their skin tones.  We know nothing of the daughter’s father, her mother never married.

Throughout the story the mother insists she must have on make up and be dressed to meet Eddie Levert when he returns.  Her children live with this.

In one very sad scene her light skinned son comes to visit, first time in months.  The mother seems to think her daughter is a paid nurse but she is overjoyed to see “her baby” whom she praises to the sky for taking such good care of her.

There are two other stories you can read online and I hope to read them next year.

I am very glad to have discovered Deesha Philyaw.

“When Eddie Levert Comes” is a great Short Story.

About the Author

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church. Deesha is also the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Her work has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and her writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostMcSweeney’sThe RumpusBrevitydead housekeepingApogee JournalCatapultHarvard Review, ESPN’s The UndefeatedThe Baltimore ReviewTueNightEbony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies. Deesha is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. From the Author’s website.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

“Truth is Not Sober” - lead story by Winifred Holtby in her collection Truth is Not Sober and other stories first published 1934 - Blackthorn Press has republished this collection with a very informative introduction by Jack Bliss Plus brief remarks on two other weird and wonderful stories by Winifred Holtby

 “Truth is Not Sober” - lead story by Winifred Holtby in her collection Truth is Not Sober and other stories first published 1934 - Blackthorn Press has republished this collection with a very informative introduction by Jack Bliss

Plus brief remarks on two other weird and wonderful stories by Winifred Holtby

It is a very good reading life month for me when I discover one new to me writer I love on first read.  This Month  the addition of Mollie Parker-Downes to Winifred Holtby makes two. “Anthroplogist’s May” and a hilarious story about matricide, “Why Harold Killed his Mother” 

I am wondering, did Winifred Holtby probably pick the title story for her collection or did the publisher.?

Winifred Holtby

Born June 23, 1898 - Rudston, England

Died - September 29, 1935 - London

1936 - Her highest regarded novel South Rising was published posthumously 

Winifred Holtby was a tireless campaigner for the rights of women,  minorities and was deeply disturbed by the rise of Fascism. If she were living now living in America she would be a supporter of the progressive ideas of Bernie Sanders.  Jack Bliss goes into depth on her politics.  She spent time in South Africa and was appalled by the treatment of Africans.

“Truth is not Sober” is the eleventh story from collection I have so far read.  I am so far alternating one of her stories with one of Mollie Parker-Downes at a rate of two a day.

Holtby’s stories are strange, deeply creative and each one different.  There is no simplistic “moral” in her stories.  I do get the  message of a repudiation of generalizations about people, about trying to impose your values on others.

There are two other stories that I loved that illustrate her talents in addition to the title story.

“ANTHROPOLOGISTS' MAY” seems like something Aldous Huxley might have written. Here is the opening stage setting 

“IN May, 1933, Mrs. Brown, of Tooting, having completed her spring cleaning and replaced the open hearth of her drawing-room by an elegant electric radiator, rolled up her brass fire-irons in some old newspapers, put them in the lead-lined antique chest in the hall, and subsequently forgot all about their existence. In May, 3149, Professor Ignatius Labariu, the distinguished anthropologist, was examining the relics dug up by an excavation party on the site of the vanished suburb of Tooting, in order to gather material for his monumental treatise on “Modes and Social Codes of the British Islanders,” when he came upon the fire-irons of Mrs. Brown. The newspapers were crumbling to dust, but before they completely disappeared he contrived to capture a few fragmentary lines of print by instantaneous ray photography, together with one almost uninjured portrait. These exceedingly valuable and unique remains of a byegone civilisation excited him intensely, and since the ways of anthropologists had not altered much within 2000 years, he proceeded, after careful examination, to build up from them a theory of the May customs of the British Islanders about as accurate as most anthropological reconstructions can hope to be.”

From here we learn of Professor Labariu’s interpretation of the recovered newspaper articles.  This brief fiction is just tremendous fun.  I don’t doubt a good bit of satire is lurking in these pages.

“Why Herbert Killed His Mother” is more than a little strange.  It focuses on what happens when a Baby Boy is just too idolized by his mother.  As a less than well informed guess i speculate it is a barb at the then popular in England most beautiful Baby contests.  It is also an account of child rearing methods.   To me it substantiate my thought that  there is warning of repudiation of generalizations about people, about trying to impose your values on others in her stories.  I Will leave this also very fun and funny plot unspoiled.

“Truth is not Sober” begins with an account of a writer of popular “realistic” novels about real people like your family and neighbors that are easy to follow.  Remember James Joyce’s Ulysses came out in 1922 and Virginia Woolf had recently published several novels and who could actually enjoy reading such works?  Some Writers were depicting the horrors war, famine, poverty and Fascism was emerging in the UK and Europe.  Most wanted simple novels about ordinary people living decent lives. The writer had become very successful and his publisher prosperous through his works.

One day he stops in at a pub, he meets a quite not sober man named Truth who begins to mock his writings as shallow works ignoring the realities of life.  Truth opens his eyes to the thousands of years of exploitation and misery that has produced the modern world.  There are numerous very interesting examples from all over.  The writer is shaken but says ok this does not stretch to life in England right now.  Of course Truth gives him concrete examples of misery he never saw.

The Writer’s next novel horrifies his publisher used to a far different kind of book.  He refuses to publish it saying the writer must go back to his old ways.

I look forward to finishing the collection.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

“Anything Could Disappear” - A Short Story by Danielle Evans from her collection The Office of Historical Corrections - 2020


“Anything Could Disappear” - A Short Story by Danielle Evans from her collection The Office of Historical Corrections - 2020

Thanks to Electrical Literature you may read this story accompanied by an introduction by Kelly Link

In June 18 of this year I posted upon my first lucky encounter with the work of Danielle Evans, on her story Boys go to Jupiter.

“Boys Go to Jupiter” - A Short Story by Danielle Evans - from Best American Short Stories 2018 - selected and introduced by Roxane Gay

First published  in the Sewanee Review, Volume 125, Number 4, Fall 2017, included in her debut collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.

This story here

Website of Danielle Evans

A very interesting interview with Danielle Evans

“In “Boys Go to Jupiter,” Danielle Evans writes a sly, subtle story about friendship and grief, but also about race and youth and small transgressions that become unintended acts of damage and defiance. “Boys Go to Jupiter” is one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read, and it embodies the ways in which fiction can be political without being heavy-handed or unnecessarily didactic.

I was very happy to find a story from her highly lauded second collection available on the website of Electrical Literature, with an introduction  by Kelly Link.

My main purpose today, besides recording my reading, is to let those new to Danielle Evans know of the online availability of this story.

This fascinating story takes us deeply into the world of a young woman.  When we meet Vera she is on a Greyhound Bus headed for New Jersey.  She has $20,000 dollars worth of cocaine in her purse.. Her boyfriend has sent her on a delivery mission.  Upon completion she will be paid $10,000 by a delivery business  in New Jersey.  Riding on a Greyhound bus is, for those not from America, the mode of transport of those on the bottom rung of society.  People often exchange life stories with others they know they will never see again.  Vera hear’s The story of several such persons.

The style of the story is almost like a fairy tale of modern America’s lost souls.

I dont want to give away a lot of the plot but everything gets going when a woman dumps her three year old son William on Vera, telling her she is just getting off the bus to use the rest stop but never returns.  At first Vera thinks she must turn him over to Police.  Then she figures not a good idea to go in Police station with cocaine in her purse.  So she takes William along to deliver the cocaine to the messenger office..  They offer her a job as a clerk and one of the two owners turns into a decent boyfriend 

Things get weird as Vera becomes more attached to William.  She knows she should try to find his parents.  

I dont want to tell more of the adventures of Vera.  I greatly enjoyed this story and have the collection on my wish list.

From The author’s website

“Danielle Evans is the author of the story collections The Office of Historical Corrections and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Her work has won awards and honors including the PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Hurston-Wright award for fiction, and the Paterson Prize for fiction. She is a 2011 National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree and a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts fellow. Her stories have appeared in magazines including The Paris Review, A Public Space, American Short Fiction, Callaloo, The Sewanee Review, and Phoebe, and have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, 2010, 2017, and 2018, and in New Stories From The South.

She received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop, previously taught creative writing at American University in Washington DC and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and currently teaches in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University”

Friday, December 18, 2020

“Of Men and Dogs” - from In Fields of Butterfly Flames and other stories by  Steve Wade -2020


“Of Men and Dogs” - from In Fields of Butterfly Flames and other stories by  Steve Wade -2020

Gateway to Steve Wade on The Reading Life

My Q and A with Steve Wade 

Website of Steve Wade 

This is the seventh short story by Steve Wade that has been featured on The Reading Life.  I first read his work during Irish Short Story Month Year Three in March of 2013.  I found his short story “The Land of the Ever Young” fully qualified to stand with the great occult fairy tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or Andrew Lang.

“The Land of the Ever Young" recreates and helps us understand the stories of fairies stealing human children and substituting changelings for them.  Part of the root of these stories comes from the famine years where people had to find ways to deal with the starvation of their children.  On another darker side, this story also  treats of the fact that one more hungry child could be the tipping point in a family on the edge of starvation that can  send everyone else into the grave.  

First and foremost 'The Land of the Ever Young" is a tremendous lot of fun to read.  Joseph Sheridan le Fanu or Andrew Lang

have no better stories than this

My Post on “A Mother’s Love” - The lead story in In Fields of Butterfly Flames and othe stories in Steve Wade’s Debut Collection 

“Of Men and Dogs”

One of the themes often explored in Irish Literature and in non-fiction works is that of adult children who marry late or not at all because they are forced into the role of care giver for an aging parent.  Often they work the family farm.

Like, “A Mother’s Love”, this is a very powerful  account of how parent- child relationships can cause immense damage to children, even in this case, as they pass or maybe dont fully pass into an escape from the sins of their parents.   A man was drawn back to home after seven years in New York City because of the needs of his father for full time care.  He had his own construction business there.

When we first meet him he is kicking the ancient Irish Wolf Hound that is his last bond to his late father.  Even the death of his father, who was very abusive to him though totally dependent, has not liberated him, he is stuck with carry for the old dog, which close to tolerates  him.

““Lie down, Amadeus,” the man said, and gave the animal a kind of shoving kick or kicking shove in the ribs with his boot. The ancient Irish Wolfhound, over a hundred in dog years, raised a sad eyebrow and then cowered arthritically back into its corner, where it eased itself, with adoggy sigh, onto its dirty blanket. “I’m sorry, old pal,” he said, while working his way around the never-used baby grand piano. He ran his fingers from the dog’s head into its wiry-furred back. Amadeus shuddered but otherwise ignored him. The dog, adored by the man’s father, whom the dog had worshipped in return,almost tolerated,and wastolerated by the man. “I miss him, too.” And it was true. Nine months on since his father last cursed him, he did miss him. What was, at first, the release he’d been awaiting for two years, two years spent tending to his father’s every need, along with the constant whims and demands – the expensive Italian wines and daily, freshbaked bread, the weekly hassle with taxis and the wheelchair on those tripsto the theatre and thecinema; and, worst of all, that constant jangling bell summoning him from sleep to carry his father into the bathroom on his countless imagined urges throughout thenight – all this had lately triggered in the man a longing ache. Only now, in the past few weeks, did the reality that his father had truly ended become an undeniable fact”

It takes the man several months to assimilate the existential fact of the passing of his father.  Some historians see in this pattern part of the reason for lingering social issues in the Ireland related to the figure of the weak or missing Irish father.  (Your best source on this is Inventing Ireland: The Literature of a Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd)

About the Author - Steve Wade’s award-winning short fiction has been widely published in literary magazines and anthologies. His work has been broadcast on national and regional radio. He has had stories short-listed for the Francis McManus Short Story Competitionand for the Hennessy Award. His stories have appeared in over fifty print publications, including Crannog, New Fables, and Aesthetica Creative Works Annual. His unpublished novel, On Hikers’ Hill was awarded First Prize in the competition, with Sir Tim Rice as the top judge. He has won First Prize in the Delvin Garradrimna Short Story Competition on a number of occasions. Winner of the Short Story category in the Write by the Sea writing competition 2019. His

short stories have been nominated for the PEN/O’Henry Award, and for the Pushcart Prize.

From the Author’s  introduction 

“The stories in this collection first appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Some of them have won prizes or have been placed in writing competitions. Ostracised by betrayal, isolated through indifference, gutted with guilt, or suffering from loss, the characters in these twenty-two stories are fractured and broken, some irreparably. In their struggle for acceptance, and their desperate search for meaning, they deny the past”

There are nine other short stories in from In Fields of Butterfly Flames  and other stories by  Steve Wade.  Between now and March 31 (March will once again be Irish Short Story Month) I plan to post on the other nine.

In Fields of Butterfly Flames   by  Steve Wade -2020 is A very worthy edition to the reading list of all lovers of the short story.

Mel u

Monday, December 14, 2020

This Flower, Safety - A Short Story by Mollie Panter-Downes- first published in The New Yorker July 6, 1940 - included in Good Evening, Mrs Crave - The Wartime Short Stories of Mollie Panter-Donnes - published by Persephone Books 1999


This Flower, Safety - A Short Story by Mollie Panter-Downes- first published in The New Yorker July 6, 1940 - included in Good Evening, Mrs Crave - The Wartime Short Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes  - published by Persephone Books 1999

Born August 16, 1906

At age 16 writes a best selling novel The Shoreless Sea

1927 - Marries

In August 1938 she begins to write for The New Yorker.  From 1939 to 1945 she was their London Correspondent. All of The Short stories in this collection were published there.  The New Yorker had first refusal on her work.  Ultimately she would publish 852 items in The New Yorker.   

September 3, 1939 England declares war on Germany 

January 27, 1997 - Surrey, England - dies 

Ten days ago I read a delightful short story, “Date With Romance”, my first work ever by Mollie Panter-Downes.  There are twenty one short stories in the collection, all, I think, first published in The New Yorker.  There are also two of her famous Letters from London.  My plan was just to read through them all then possibly do a closing post.  However after reading the sixth story in the collection “This Flower, Safety” I saw a connection between the lives of her characters, trying to survive World War Two, keeping their courage up but not knowing how things will end to millions of people now living through the  Covid Pandemic.

Here is opening paragraph, I do over quote her perhaps because I just relish her style so much, we learn how the war initially changed her very comfortable existence:

“Miss Mildred Ewing had lived at the Hotel San Remo, Crumpington-on-Sea, since the beginning of the war. Her London house, one of those vast, dirty stucco fortresses of the past that are still to be seen in the squares of Belgravia, was untenanted except for an old caretaker living in the basement. Although the rooms had been put away carefully under dust sheets, their contents packed in newspapers or tenderly wrapped in baize, the dust had probably seeped in to lie in the dulling mahogany curlicues of the Chippendale chairs, the Georgian silver must be tarnishing slowly, the china cupids acquiring a film of grey on their dimpled pink thighs. Miss Ewing thought of this gradual disintegration of her property with calm, even with indifference.”

She now lives in the country accompanied only by her elderly maid.

“Miss Ewing was safe at Crumpington-on-Sea. She and her elderly maid, Sparks, enjoyed the security of that sunny little watering place, which was sometimes quite like the Riviera, really. Sparks enjoyed it a good deal more than the previous annual sojourns in Nice or Mentone.”.

I googled “Crumpington-on-Sea” but got no result.  It is a great name for an English Town.  The town was not near any targets of military value so there was no reason think the Germans would bomb it.  Staying in a posh hotel, they listen to war News on the radio but it all seems remote.  They feel safe. Then one day a German bomber, running out of fuel, has to drop their bombs on Crumpington-on-Sea.  Miss Ewing feels she now has no choice but to Go stay with a nephew and his wife who live in an even more remote area.


As time progresses we see Miss Ewing becoming less concerned with her possesions, carefully used by Parker-Downes  to illustrate social distinctions and more with just surviving, accepting her increasingly limited life.

As i finished this marvelous story, I thought of my life now.  I live in Metro Manila.  The per capita Covid Death Rate in The Philllippines is ten percent of The USA.  Since March 3rd i have observed strict quaratine.  People over 65 are not allowed to go out unless an emergency.  Plus my Family does not want me going out.  I, like Miss Ewing suffer no material hardship at all.  I am totally taken care of by my Family but sometimes i feel a bit trapped.  Like Miss Ewing i try to be, and mostly am, thankful for my comfort and safety when millions suffer.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner by Chaim Grade - first published in Yiddish in 1952 - Translated by Ruth Wisse December 2020 - published in Mosaic - First published in The 1952 in the Rosh Hashanah Issue of issue of the New York Jewish monthly Yidisher kemfer (“The Jewish Militant”)


My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner  by Chaim Grade -  first published in Yiddish in 1952 - Translated by Ruth Wisse December 2020 - published in Mosaic - First published in The 1952 in the Rosh Hashanah Issue of issue of the New York Jewish monthly Yidisher kemfer (“The Jewish Militant”)

My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner » Mosaic

Chaim Grade,in the image above with his second wife, his first was murdered by Germans, Inna (née Heckler) Grade

Born April 4, 1910 in Vilna, Lituania 

1932 begins to write Short Stories in Yiddish

He spends WWII in Russia

1948-moves to New York City, where he will live from then on, after a couple of years in Paris

Dies April 26, 1982 in The Bronx, New York

Chaim Grade is considered one of the greatest of Yiddish writers.  He wrote plays, several novels considered Master works, learned treatises about how the Holocaust should be understood in Jewish tradition but I think it  his Short Stories and Novellas depicting life in Vilna, Lituania that are most now read.

Mayn krig mit hersh rasseyner” is situated in Paris where Grade briefly lived after the war. His first published work of prose, it appeared in the 1952 Rosh Hashanah issue of the  Jewish Militanf. 

In her introduction Professor Wisse says some scholars see the work as an essay on post Holocaust reactions by Jews debating the meaning of the Holocaust to surviving Jews.  Wisse classified it as a story as many Yiddish Short Stories are structured as two people, in most cases men, having an argument about how The Talmud dictates earthly events should be viewed.

There are three time and location segments in this work, Reading time is about one hour.   In 1937 two  friends debate Talmudic issues.  They were classmates at a yeshiva , a Talmudic school. Now seven years have gone by and one is now himself a teacher. They debate how different readings of the scriptures and commentaries would see worldly events.

“In 1937, I returned to Bialystok, seven years after I had been a student in the Novaredok Yeshiva of the Musarists, a movement that gives special importance to ethical and ascetic elements in Judaism. When I came back, I found many of my old school friends still there. A few even came to the literary evening when I spoke. Others visited me secretly; they did not want the head of the yeshiva to know. I could see on their unshaven faces that their poverty had brought them suffering and that the fire of their youthful zeal had slowly burned itself out. They continued to observe all the laws and customs meticulously, but the weariness of their spiritual struggles lay upon them. For years they had tried to tear the desire for pleasure out of their hearts, and now realized they had lost the war with themselves. They had not overcome the evil urge”

The two ex-Class mates meet again in 1939, in Novaredak.  The narrator,with same first name as Grade, is now a well know writer, his old Classmate, launches into a direct attack on him:

“Chaim Vilner, you will remain a cripple. You will be deformed for the rest of your life. You write godless verses and they pinch you on the cheek for it like a ḥeder child. To add to the blasphemy, you come to spread your godlessness in the very city where you once studied. Now they’re stuffing you with praise as they stuff a goose with grain, and spoil you like an only child! But later you’ll see, when you’ve begun to go to the school of those pork-eaters, oh, won’t they beat you! Oh, how they’ll whip you! Which of you isn’t hurt by criticism? Is there really one of you so self-confident that he doesn’t go around begging for some authority’s approval? Is any one of you prepared to publish his book anonymously? The main thing for you people is that your name should stand on the cover, at the very top!”

Of course Chaim counter attacks.

By far the longest segment takes place in Paris in 1948.  Chaim assumed his friend died in the Holocaust so he was totally shocked to spot him on a bus in Paris.  Hersh Rasseyner tells him how he survived in the camps.  While there he risked execution to teach young men scripture.

Chaim tells him how can you love a God that would allow send six million Jews to be murdered in the Holocaust.  They begin an extended  very learned passionate debate on this issue.

Professor Wisse says My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner  by Chaim Grade is the most profound treatment of Jewish theological and historical interpretations of the Holocaust ever written.

I am very grateful to Mosaic for placing the new translation and Professor Wisse’s essay online.  These are very valuable works.