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Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler: Fishke the Lame and Benjamin the Third

Overview

Born in Belorussia in 1836, S. Y. Abramovitsh was the founding father of modern Yiddish fiction. His stories and novels depict small-town Jewish life in the Russian Pale of Settlement through the hilarious, satiric, and sympathetic tales of his alter ego/narrator, Mendele the Book Peddler ("Mendele Moykher Sforim"). This itinerant peddler, who travels the Pale collecting good stories, was so closely identified with Abramovitsh's fiction that "Mendele" became the author's pen name. This volume - the fourth in ...
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Overview

Born in Belorussia in 1836, S. Y. Abramovitsh was the founding father of modern Yiddish fiction. His stories and novels depict small-town Jewish life in the Russian Pale of Settlement through the hilarious, satiric, and sympathetic tales of his alter ego/narrator, Mendele the Book Peddler ("Mendele Moykher Sforim"). This itinerant peddler, who travels the Pale collecting good stories, was so closely identified with Abramovitsh's fiction that "Mendele" became the author's pen name. This volume - the fourth in Schocken's acclaimed Library of Yiddish Classics - brings together two of Abramovitsh's best-loved novellas: "Fishke the Lame," a bittersweet love story set in the world of beggars, paupers, and rogues, and "The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third," the comical misadventures of a Quixote-Panza pair who set off to see the world outside their town. These tales, in superb new translations by Ted Gorelick and Hillel Halkin, represent Yiddish storytelling at its best - full of heart, humor, and homespun wisdom.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dubbed "the grandfather of Yiddish literature" by Sholem Aleichem, Abramovitsh (1835-1917) was renowned in the latter half of the 19th century for putting the Eastern European shtetl and its impoverished inhabitants under the magnifying glass of literary realism. Indeed, he has a splendid eye for detail: the pages here bristle with robust descriptions of people, animals and scenery that, in the piquant vernacular of the translation, recall Mark Twain. But unlike Twain, in "Fishke the Lame" (1888), a novella-length monologue by an itinerant country peddler, Abramovitsh doesn't propel his observations with much narrative drive. The overall result is a sluggish, meandering river of words that readers, especially those who have slogged through the 70 pages of dissertation-like introduction, may want to climb out of midstream. The short story, "Benjamin the Third," (1878) would have been a better choice to open this volume. Here, Abramovitsh is in fine form with a smartly paced mock-epic recounting of the misadventures of an ignorant rube from a tiny shtetl who goes off to find the Holy Land. Apart from the latter tale, this tome is best appreciated by those of scholarly bent. (Apr.)
Aaron Cohen
S. Y. Abramovitsch (18351917) was the architect of modern fiction in Yiddish and Hebrew. He wrote primarily in Russia during the later nineteenth century, drawing great inspiration from his shtetl origins and often lampooning them, too. Introducing these new translations of his work, Dan Miron notes that Abramovitsch's dual perspective--affectionate and critical--has since been used not only throughout Jewish literature but also in the work of such artists as Marc Chagall. Among Abramovitsch's most eminent narratives, "Fishke the Lame" and the Swift-influenced "Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third" are picaresque accounts of misadventures during journeys across the Old World. They combine warmth, surreal humor, and unflinching depiction of the violence that surrounded the lives of European Jews. Moreover, Abramovitsch's vivid descriptions of many vanished traditions, such as the "dealings and give-'n'-take palaver" of the traditional bathhouse, have undoubted appeal for both professional and armchair cultural historians. Observing publisher Schocken's high standards, Gorelick's ("Fishke") and Halkin's ("Benjamin") translations are both consistently lively.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805241365
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/9/1996
  • Series: Library of Yiddish Classics
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.55 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction
A Note on the Translations
Fishke the Lame: A Book of Jewish Poorfolk 1
The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third 299
Glossary 393
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