Family Mashber


First time in Paperback

The Family Mashber is a protean work: a tale of a divided family and divided souls, a panoramic picture of an Eastern European town, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, an innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power, embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical ?gures drawn from daily life and the depths of the unconscious. Above all, the book is an account of a world in ...

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First time in Paperback

The Family Mashber is a protean work: a tale of a divided family and divided souls, a panoramic picture of an Eastern European town, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, an innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power, embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures drawn from daily life and the depths of the unconscious. Above all, the book is an account of a world in crisis (in Hebrew, mashber means crisis), torn between the competing claims of family, community, business, politics, the individual conscience, and an elusive God.

At the center of the book are three brothers: the businessman Moshe, at the height of his fortunes as the story begins, but whose luck takes a permanent turn for the worse; the religious seeker Luzi, who, for all his otherworldliness, finds himself ever more caught up in worldly affairs; and the idiot-savant Alter, whose reclusive existence is tortured by fear and sexual desire. The novel is also haunted by the enigmatic figure of Sruli Gol, a drunk, a profaner of sacred things, an outcast, who nonetheless finds his way through every door and may well hold the key to the brothers’ destinies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Pinkhas Kahanovitsh, who wrote under the pseudonym Der Nister (or 'The Hidden One'), was a master of the surreal...What is astounding about this book, despite its extreme realism, is how it achieves a kind of surrealistic magic of its own. Despite its outwardly censor-approved story, the novel contains a hidden commentary on coercive belief and, through its breathtaking depth of detail, an almost supernatural resurrection of a Jewish life that failed to prove its right to exist. Reading this massive novel is the closest anyone can come today to living in that world." --Dara Horn, Foreword Magazine

"The restoration to the light of this extraordinary novel is an act of literary and cultural redemption. More than that, the restitution of this Yiddish masterwork-as life-saturated as the other great Russian novels--is an augmentation of world literature." -Cynthia Ozick

"Like his contemporary and friend, Marc Chagall, Kahanovitch depicts Russian Jewish life 100 years ago...Leonard Wolf's translation is expresses beautifully a poetic turn-of-the-century novel...We should see Kahanovitch posthumously of [the Soviet Union's] outstanding literary figures." -The Financial Times

"The great achievement of The Family Mashber is to have re-created with such passionate objectivity, in all its complexity and breadth, a world what exists now only in this enduring memorial to it...a book that leads cross thresholds, most of all the threshold of our own experience; to enter in and be moved like him by the 'spirit of celebration.'" -The New York Review of Books

"This scrupulously detailed, grandly plotted family novel-a realistic work that deals with questions of both faith and commerce while managing mystical overtones-compels attention and admiration." -National Yiddish Book Center

"This vast mural of the Ukraine, written in Yiddish 50 years ago and only now published in notable for its depth and breadth of characterization, noise and variety, coarse comedy and Goya-esque depiction of jostling, importunate mobs. Readers won't soon forget the mansions and hovels, refuse-strewn alleys and fragrant courts of the market town so vividly re-created in this powerful novel." -Publishers Weekly

"An extraordinary novel." -Alan Sillitoe, The Sunday Times

"A fascinating read." -Guardian

"Earthily realistic and powerfully holds much reward for anyone attracted to the reincarnation of a culture now disappeared, but brought to life by a passionate sense of tribal history." -The Herald

"One of the masterpieces of Soviet fiction." -The Modern Jewish Canon

The Barnes & Noble Review
If you're unfamiliar with the Yiddish writer Der Nister -- a pseudonym of Pinhas Kahanovitch (1884-1950) -- you're both a) not alone and b) no less likely to enjoy an intimate knowledge of the Ukrainian market town of Berdichev. Masked as "N." in Der Nister's remarkable saga The Family Mashber, Berdichev was not only the imagined locale for this sprawling achievement in fiction but also a very real and vibrant place (it was the birth city of Conrad and home of Sholom Alechim, and even the site of Balzac's wedding nuptials). Der Nister, who perished in the anti-Yiddish Soviet purges of the late 1940s, fashioned a sui generis novel in his story of this city, replete with peddlers, holy men, moneylenders, gangsters, brothel keepers, and fallen aristocrats. The Mashbers of the title -- Moishe, the respectable bourgeois businessman who falls from grace; Luzi, an otherworldly itinerant who sets the events in train that will destroy Moishe; and Alter, the idiot brother whose moments of clarity take on Delphic significance -- are at once tangibly real in the novel and beacons of symbolic import. But the most memorable figure in The Family Mashber isn't a Mashber at all but the drunken nogoodnik Sruli Gol, a mysterious antihero who all but floats along the novel's surface. It would be wrong to call this novel either social realism or magic realism. It wouldn't be incorrect, though, to rank it among the most marvelous literary rediscoveries of the past decade. In his preface, Der Nister wrote that he had written the novel "to give young people a sense of the great distance that separates our reality from that earlier one." Let us be thankful that he did so. --Eric Banks
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590172797
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 5/20/2008
  • Series: New York Review Books Classics Series
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 1,117,860
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Der Nister (1884–1950) was the pen name used by Pinhas Kahanovitch, a Yiddish writer, philosopher, translator, critic, and key figure in modernist literature in Kiev in the 1920s. In 1921, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Der Nister left Russia and settled in Germany, where he published two collections of stories. In 1927, he returned to the Soviet Union, where his work was declared reactionary by the Soviet regime and its literary critics. He was arrested in 1949 and died in a Soviet prison hospital in 1950.

Leonard Wolf is a much-published writer of poetry, fiction, social history, and biography, and a leading translator of Yiddish literature. He lives in New York City.

David Malouf is a novelist and poet. His novel The Great World was awarded the Commonwealth Prize and Remembering Babylon was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He has received the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

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