From one of the world's foremost scholars of Yiddish, a sweeping history of the language, its culture, and its literature-with a provocative argument about its future as a living language
- Basic Books
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- 6.56(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.22(d)
What People are saying about this
(Ruth Gay, author of The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait and Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America)
(Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated)
Meet the Author
Dovid Katzis one of the world's foremost academics in the field of Yiddish studies. He has a B.A. from Columbia and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of London. He taught at Oxford for 18 years, where he established the University's Yiddish program, as well as at Yale. He is currently at Vilnius University, as research director for the new Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002.
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The book is perhaps the best available popular introduction to the history of the Yiddish Language. Although scientifically rigorous, it is directed to the general public, interpretative rather than simply factual, and presents many highly subjective views of the author (which only makes it more interesting). Language politics (Hebrew/Yiddish dichotomy) within the modern secular Jewish world are frankly discussed. One obvious problem with the book is the hypertrophied 'litvak patriotism' of the author. This results in skewed choices of literary figures individually presented (almost without exception from the Northern Yiddish dialectal area), with flagrant disregard to details when it concerns other Yiddish dialects and areas. Northern Yiddish toponimics is meticulously presented up to the tiniest of the shtetls, whereas Bessarabia is consistently placed in Ukraine, Kishinev (Chisinau) is repeatedly spelled 'kishenev', Chernowitz is also misspelled and the birthplace of Sholem-Aleichem is not spelled out at all (compare to any litvak author in the book). Equally biased is his dealing with the contemporary secular Yiddish writers of the younger generation and with the Soviet Yiddish literature (which produced many of the former). Having said all this, no better review of all things Yiddish seems to exist.
It is refreshing to read an informative, accurate and well-written book about the real history of Yiddish, particularly by as gifted a writer as Katz. As usual, truth is vastly more interesting than mythology, and Katz handles the truth with an academic's intellectual razor but with a writer's soul. My only complaint is a slighly fawning attitude towards Haredim demonstrated at the end. They may well carry Yiddish forward into the 21st century but the culture they carry along with it is as far as can be from the vibrant, intellectual, open and secular Golden Age of Yiddish.
A truly great work of a major scholar of Yiddish. It presents a highly readable and thought provoking saga of Yiddish language and culture from its origins at the beginning of the last milenium well into our own days. Its relevance to contemporary Jewish cultural politics and to the possible survival and continuation of Yiddish creativity will attract many intelligent readers who had their fill of popular schmaltz books 'on Yiddish' and who wouldn't mind to take a respite from the heavy artilery academic writings on the subject.