The End of Everything

David Bergel­son; Joseph Sher­man, trans.
  • Review
By – September 8, 2011

The Jew­ish world incin­er­at­ed in the Holo­caust was not the one we know from Sholom Ale­ichem or Marc Cha­gall, where peas­ants lived in pover­ty in tiny towns of wood­en huts. It was more like the one that David Bergel­son wrote about, where bour­geois fam­i­lies owned dis­til­leries and lum­ber­yards, edu­cat­ed their chil­dren for the pro­fes­sions, employed maids and sta­ble boys, and prid­ed them­selves on speak­ing Pol­ish or Russian. 

The End of Every­thing cap­tures that life and the land­scape it inhab­it­ed in vivid detail. I n the nov­el, Mirel Hurvits, daugh­ter of a busi­ness­man, attracts sev­er­al suit­ors with her beau­ty and intel­li­gence. Dis­tract­ed and self-absorbed, she nev­er feels entire­ly involved or sat­is­fied with the men who court her. After reject­ing a few of them she agrees to a love­less mar­riage that only accel­er­ates her depres­sion and unhap­pi­ness. The plea­sures of the sto­ry come from its ensem­ble of sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ters, seen pur­su­ing their aspi­ra­tions amid their dai­ly lives. 

David Bergel­son was one of the 13 Sovi­et Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­als exe­cut­ed on August 12, 1952. He embraced social­ism and lat­er Com­mu­nism for Jew­ish-nation­al­ist rea­sons and sur­vived the purges of the 1930’s before becom­ing a vic­tim of Stalin’s post­war anti-Semi­tism. Trans­la­tor Joseph Sherman’s superb intro­duc­tion traces the author’s life in detail and bril­liant­ly con­tex­tu­al­izes the nov­el as well.

Be sure to check out the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Yid­dish Lit­er­a­ture” book club read­ing list.

Discussion Questions