The fall of the powerful House of Mashber provides a microscopic view of late 19th century shtetl life even as it is vanishing. In this novel, juxtaposed modern and archaic descriptions of the everyday suggest a medieval theme, but the spiritual and religious life call to mind South American magical realism.
With stinging insight that is as relevant today as in the period described, the novelist spares no one; ridiculing and examining business practices, usury, petty politics, class and nobility, religious fanaticism, and, worst of all, bigotry by Jews toward Jews.
The introductions to the English language edition by David Malouf and Leonard Wolf provide background on the events, milieu, the historical figure Rabbi Nakhman of Bratslav, and the author. Der Nister (Pinhas Kahanovitch), writing under the thumb of Stalin, carefully distances his story by setting it in an imaginary town called “N.” in the 1870’s. But his work still earned him prison. The Family Mashber is an epic masterpiece.