Recov­er­ing Yid­dish­land”: Thresh­old Moments in Amer­i­can Literature

Mer­le L. Bachman
  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

This most recent work of Mer­le Bach­man, poet and direc­tor of cre­ative writ­ing at Spald­ing Uni­ver­si­ty, Louisville, Ken­tucky, is clear­ly the work of a poet expert in lit­er­ary analy­sis. Her approach is clear: she states, because of my inter­est in Amer­i­can Yid­dish­land,’ I write only about poets who made the jour­ney to New York” (pri­mar­i­ly from East­ern Europe from the 1890s through the 1930’s).

Bach­man begins her study of Yid­dish­land” by iden­ti­fy­ing her­self as a Yid­dish stu­dent who came rel­a­tive­ly late to the study of the lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture. Through­out the text, speak­ing as that very Yid­dish stu­dent, Bach­man responds to the works she ana­lyzes. Her inser­tion of her­self into this book is unique and appealing. 

Read­ers should not expect a study of nos­tal­gia or bor­sht-belt humor. Of pri­ma­ry impor­tance is the con­cept of thresh­old”; that is, the place that joins an inside and an out­side, two worlds that meet, even over­lap, yet inter­sect.” Bach­man states that Yid­dish­land and thresh­old” are metaphors but also notes that she sees Yid­dish cul­tur­al space as actu­al,” locat­ed on New York’s Low­er East Side as var­i­ous texts show. 

Among those texts are Abra­ham Cahan’s Yekl, Anzia Yezierska’s short sto­ries, the works of Yid­dish writ­ers who deal with the Black expe­ri­ence, and Mikhl Likht’s poet­ry, rarely read and nev­er trans­lat­ed before Bachman’s work.

Recov­er­ing Yid­dish­land” is a must-read for any­one inter­est­ed in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture, par­tic­u­lar­ly those writ­ings lost to us. Bach­man makes it clear that they are part of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, illus­tra­tions, index. 

Julia Wolf Mazow, retired uni­ver­si­ty Eng­lish instruc­tor, stud­ied Yid­dish in the Oxford and YIVO sum­mer pro­grams. Her trans­la­tions from Yid­dish have appeared in BRIDGES.

Discussion Questions