In The Brothers Schlemiel, Mark Binder tries to capture the community of Chelm in all its innocence, foolishness, and humor. “In this work of fiction, history lives in the footnotes,” he declares in his author’s note. When history gets in the way of the story, it is easily modified. So it’s clear from the start that there is nothing factual about this book, which traces the lives of the Schlemiel family and the community that surrounds them. Divided into forty-five chapters that were originally serialized in various Jewish newspapers in North America, the book’s individual chapters work well on their own, making this a good bedtime read for adults and young readers. But it’s the adults who will really get the humor written between the lines. “Only in Chelm could a father get so lost going to fetch the midwife that he misses the birth of his first child,” Binder writes, poking consistent fun at the antics and idiocy of those who call Chelm home. It seems that everyone in the town is in slow mode, so the mix-ups are many and the potential for laughter abundant. Zevi Blum adds colorful caricatures to the pages that help make this lengthy book a light-hearted, whimsical read.
Lauren Kramer is a Vancouver-based journalist, wife, and mother with a lifelong passion for literature. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she has won awards for her writing and reported from many corners of the world. Read more of her work at www.laurenkramer.net.