At the Edge of Dreamland

Tsvi Eisen­man; Bar­nett Zumoff, trans.
  • Review
By – December 22, 2011

Birds speak Yid­dish, trees dream, walk­ing canes con­verse, an egg can give eter­nal life, a per­son can fly with the feath­er of a Bird of Par­adise, an angel is inex­plic­a­bly exiled from Heav­en, a pious rabbi’s soul is impris­oned in a stone… Seem­ing­ly light­heart­ed fables can also be seen as dark alle­go­ry; with themes of wan­der­ing, suf­fer­ing, vic­tim­iza­tion, help­less­ness, and the fick­le­ness of Fate (or the Uni­verse, or God). These haunt­ing, beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed short-short sto­ries are prose poems: using strik­ing visu­al images, metaphor and fan­ta­sy, they col­lec­tive­ly draw a biog­ra­phy, not only of an indi­vid­ual, but of an entire gen­er­a­tion that was uproot­ed, scat­tered and scarred. 

Tsvi Eisen­man is one of the last native writ­ers of Yid­dish, but this work is star­tling­ly, refresh­ing­ly mod­ern. He can be com­pared to O. Hen­ry, Saki, Guy de Mau­pas­sant, and Shirley Jack­son in his abil­i­ty to weave a love­ly vignette that recasts itself with an iron­ic twist. In his intro­duc­tion, the trans­la­tor, Bar­nett Zumoff, decodes, explains, and ana­lyzes the indi­vid­ual tales. The Very Briefly’ author’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy is also help­ful in under­stand­ing how his own expe­ri­ences col­or the work.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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