Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tevye the Dairyman

This new edition has two books
Tevye the Dairyman, by Sholem Aleichem

I was excited to read these Yiddish short stories, published over 20 years (1895 - 1915), by the great Jewish writer and humorist Sholem Aleichem.  (That's a funny pseudonym that means, pretty much, "hello how are you" -- his real name was Sholem Rabinovitch.)  These are the stories that Fiddler on the Roof is based on.  So, excitement! 

Except then I realized that Fiddler on the Roof always makes me cry.  And the stories, of course, are more realistic and rougher and more tragic and do not have fun songs.  They are still done in this humorous Tevye style, but oh boy.  So--be prepared.

The musical writers did stick fairly close to the main events over several stories, so you'll see a lot of familiar points.  Tevye's "dream" really is in the Tzeitl story, so that made me happy.  The stories give us two more daughters (Tevye says he has seven, but one or two disappear without comment), each with their own tale to tell, and eventually the Jews are run out of their village.

Tevye is an oddball character, not easy for me to understand.  He loves to talk--he will hardly let others get a word in--and he's always spouting cockeyed midrashim and bits of Torah.  In fact he can't just say anything straightforwardly at all.  Underneath all his bluster, we catch glimpses of his true feelings.

Excellent short stories and very funny, but be prepared for a large dose of tragedy.  Someday maybe I will get the courage to read another collection, Motl the Cantor's Son.  Motl is a little boy who travels from the Russian shtetl to New York City. 


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Ah, so good, so good. "Hodl" is an all-time great story.

Motl is not a tenth as sad.

Jean said...

Yeah, it's great literature all right. And I am glad to hear that I can read Motl without needing a box of Kleenex!

Anonymous said...

I soooo need to read this! If you have any interest in Yiddish lit, you MUST read Outwitting History!
Highly recommended!

Jean said...

Oh yeah? OK, looking into it. Thanks!