Contemporary popular and mainstream scholarly perspectives on modern Yiddish culture tend to associate it with the rise of the Jewish Labor Bund and its socialist ideologies. Fishman’s book provides a corrective to this partial understanding through a detailed portrait of the multiple political and cultural forces that stimulated the growth of modern Yiddish culture, in the contexts of Tsarist Russia and of Poland between the wars. Although the historical territory covered is not new, Fishman pulls an impressive amount of material together in a compressed form. He offers fresh insights into the impact of the Russian political atmosphere and interwar Polish nationalism on the rise of “Yiddishism” and the Jewish national movements that elevated Yiddish as the key diaspora language. Fishman’s clear, unadorned style gives access to complex issues, but nonacademic readers will likely find most compelling the book’s final chapter, recounting the dramatic efforts of the Vilna Ghetto’s “paper brigade” to rescue Jewish cultural treasures. Index, notes, selected bibliography.
Merle Lyn Bachman is a poet and associate professor of English at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. She is the author of “Recovering ‘Yiddishland’ ”: Threshold Moments in American Literature” (Syracuse University Press, 2008) and a book of poetry, “Diorama with Fleeing Figures” (Shearsman Books, 2009).