Have I Got a Sto­ry for You: More Than a Cen­tu­ry of Fic­tion from the Forward

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

Have I Got a Sto­ry for You: More than a Cen­tu­ry of Fic­tion from the For­ward is what you would call in Yid­dish a real mechayeh. Teem­ing with life, both fun­ny and bit­ter­sweet, this col­lec­tion hon­ors not only a lan­guage that is used by few­er and few­er peo­ple, but a world itself. From lone­ly board­ers to lovelorn seam­stress­es, and from shriek­ing har­ri­dans to wist­ful elders, the book con­tains mul­ti­tudes. Most of the sto­ries have nev­er before been trans­lat­ed. Edit­ed by Ezra Glin­ter, Have I Got A Sto­ry for You pro­vides a panoram­ic view into a van­ish­ing, and irre­place­able, Jew­ish cos­mos. As nov­el­ist Dara Horn’s elo­quent intro­duc­tion explains, this book is not a col­lec­tion of news sto­ries, full of his­toric moment, but of indi­vid­ual lives, open­ing to us, and this is what made the For­ward the news­pa­per of record for Ashke­nazi Jews the world over: its record of pri­vate emo­tion­al expe­ri­ences that would nev­er make headlines.”

While The For­ward was not the only news­pa­per to car­ry Jew­ish fic­tion in its native Yid­dish, it did so for the longest stretch of time, and to an inter­na­tion­al read­er­ship that at one point approached a quar­ter of a mil­lion souls. Over the years, it pub­lished not only the Nobel Prize-win­ning Isaac Bashe­vis Singer (and his broth­er, Israel Joshua Singer), but also the works of promi­nent writ­ers like Chaim Grade, B. Kovn­er (who cre­at­ed the orig­i­nal, hilar­i­ous Yente Telebende”), Sholem Asch, Lyala Kauf­man (Sholom Aleichem’s daugh­ter and Bel Kaufman’s moth­er), David Bergel­son, and leg­endary For­ward edi­tor Abra­ham Cahan himself.

Many of the works con­tained in this vol­ume would have been lost to his­to­ry – and indeed were — until they were painstak­ing­ly found, col­lat­ed, and trans­lat­ed into this mag­nif­i­cent book. They span eras, from before the First World War to mod­ern times, and from East­ern Europe (chiefly the Ukraine, Poland, and Lithua­nia) to Israel and to Brook­lyn and beyond.

One of the stand­outs is Roshelle Weprinsky’s sto­ry By a Far Shore,” which takes place in Mia­mi, the final refuge of many Jew­ish immi­grants. On that shore, two aging women bask in the trop­i­cal sun, feel­ing both exiled from their Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and from the lives they them­selves once lived. That same feel­ing, of some­thing lost, is even more poignant­ly present in Chaim Grade’s Grand­fa­thers and Grand­chil­dren.” In this tale, a small com­mu­ni­ty of elders in Vil­na, neglect­ed by their own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, are ecsta­t­ic when their Old Shul is vis­it­ed, tem­porar­i­ly, by a group of young schol­ars, and dis­heart­ened when they are left, again, to their vig­il of main­tain­ing the past.

Some of the sto­ries are pro­saical­ly, touch­ing­ly roman­tic, such as Avrom Reyzen’s Who Will Pre­vail?” There, a room-rent­ing teacher of mar­riage­able age falls in love with the daugh­ter of his land­la­dy, only to see his chances dimin­ished by a more aggres­sive tai­lor who also lives in the house. Some are mys­ti­cal, as in I.B. Singer’s The Hotel,” in which the fate of an innkeep­er depends on how he treats his shab­bier guests. What holds these tales togeth­er is a del­i­cate gold­en rib­bon – but how strong it is, and how lucky we are to have them gath­ered for us, like an ever-fra­grant bouquet.

Sonia Taitz, a Ramaz, Yale Law, and Oxford grad­u­ate, is the author of five books, includ­ing the acclaimed sec­ond gen­er­a­tion” mem­oir, The Watch­mak­er’s Daugh­ter, and the nov­el, Great with Child. Praised for her warmth and wit by Van­i­ty Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Peo­ple and The Chica­go Tri­bune, she is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a nov­el about the Zohar, the mys­ti­cal source of Jew­ish transcendence.

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