Modern Ladino Culture: Press, Belles Lettres, and Theater in the Late Ottoman Empire
Indiana University Press
Olga Borovaya’s new book, Modern Ladino Culture, is the first to examine as a unified phenomenon three genres of Ladino cultural production: the press, belles lettres, and theater. Unknown in earlier periods of the Ottoman Jewish history, Borovaya identifies these genres as imports from the West which “took root” among Ottoman Sephardim at the beginning of the twentieth century and developed within the context of the local culture. Her book focuses on the communities of Salonica, Izmir, and Istanbul - the major centers of Ladino culture.
Borovaya considers it important to approach Ladino print culture as a single phenomenon in order to recognize and understand the cultural movement underway at the time and to comprehend the importance of that movement in Sephardi history. Noting that there are no more than one thousand Ladino texts extant, she regards her fundamental concern as being the examination of “textual manifestations as a source of Sephardi history.” Nevertheless, she does analyze the three genres in order of their development, beginning with the press – “the earliest and most influential form of modern Ladino print culture.” She then turns to “belles lettres,” a genre dependant on the growth of the press. Lastly she deals with Sephardi theater, for which she asserts that the Ladino press provides the only adequate source of information.
Borovaya explores the significant role that the Alliance schools played in the growth of Ladino culture. The “westernization” mission of these schools was reflected in the educational objectives of Ladino print production. The Ladino press set out to encourage a broader, more liberal world view. This was also the goal of the “belles lettres” genre. Borovaya discusses the phenomenon of “rewriting.” Novels were generally rewritten from western European texts - often yielding a distinctive character that defied their origins - and then serialized in the press. She provides fascinating insights into the motivations and careers of the major figures in these cultural endeavors.
With detailed notes and an index Borovaya presents a comprehensive but highly readable analysis which provides a welcome companion to the study of a rather rare collection of materials.
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