Strange Ways (Of fremde Vegn)

Rokhl Fay­gen­berg; Robert & Gol­da Wer­man, trans.
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012
Most Amer­i­can read­ers of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture are famil­iar with the names of the mod­ern clas­si­cal Yid­dish writ­ers such as Sholem Ale­ichem, I.L. Peretz, and Chaim Grade. The role of women in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture was usu­al­ly con­fined to devo­tion­al prayers, tkhines, and some poet­ry. Longer sto­ries and nov­els were not com­mon since women were denied access to schools and learn­ing that would allow them to devel­op their tal­ents. 

But in 1925 a nov­el by a woman Yid­dish writer appeared that was ground­break­ing in not only its pub­li­ca­tion but its top­ic. It is a sto­ry of for­bid­den love, not unlike a Yid­dish ver­sion of Madam Bovary. The hero­ine, Sheyn­del, wants a life of plea­sure and love, turn­ing away from the tra­di­tions of her shtetl life. This is the major theme of the nov­el, moder­ni­ty encroach­ing upon the tra­di­tion­al life of Jews in the vil­lages and towns of late 19th to ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Poland. The sym­bol of this change is the rail­road that is built and brings with it out­side influ­ences that destroy and cor­rupt the peo­ple, espe­cial­ly the younger gen­er­a­tion in its first taste of a new kind of free­dom. Like the Hasidic tales of an old­er lit­er­a­ture based upon rab­binic sto­ry telling, the nov­el is both fan­ci­ful and spir­i­tu­al with a moral mes­sage. A wel­come addi­tion to any library of Yid­dish literature.
Bar­bara Bietz is a free­lance writer and children’s book review­er. She is cur­rent­ly a mem­ber of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee. Bar­bara is the author of the mid­dle grade book, Like a Mac­cabee. She has a blog ded­i­cat­ed to Jew­ish books for chil­dren at www​.Bar​baraB​Book​Blog​.Blogspot​.com.

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