Wan­der­ing Stars

Sholem Ale­ichem; Aliza Shevrin, trans.; Tony Kush­n­er, fwd.
  • Review
By – January 10, 2012
Aper­fect­ly imper­fect longer work by stel­lar short-sto­ry mas­ter Sholem Ale­ichem, one hun­dred years after its pub­li­ca­tion, with its bril­liant fore­word by play­wright Tony Kush­n­er worth gold on its own, Wan­der­ing Stars is a Jew­ish, Yid­dish turn-of-last-cen­tu­ry metaphor­i­cal the­atri­cal love jour­ney across con­ti­nents. 

The lovelorn main char­ac­ters, wealthy Bessara­bi­an Leibel (Leo) who acts, and poor Raizel (Rosa) who sings, spend the nov­el wan­der­ing through non-con­crete cir­cles that nev­er quite over­lap until an almost fleet­ing moment in the Bronx Zoo. This nov­el takes a wild­ly wan­der­ing, manip­u­la­tive cast of col­or­ful char­ac­ters (stars!), Yid­dish the­ater, immi­grant life, and indeed the Jew­ish sto­ry, jolt­ing­ly from places and times in wan­der­ing, won­drous mean­der­ings. The read­er is immersed in their long-dis­tance love long­ing as almost a back­drop with­in a frag­ment­ed mir­ror of the Jew­ish experience. 

Our nat­ty nar­ra­tor shares the jour­ney with us: Our young wan­der­ers, the rich man’s son and the cantor’s daugh­ter, had trav­eled, like wan­der­ing stars, over the wide world, per­form­ing in the the­ater. Final­ly, for the first time since they left their birth­place, Hole­neshti, they were both in the same city.” 

Trans­la­tor Aliza Shevrin recap­tures the lilt­ing cacoph­o­nous music of Aleichem’s Yid­dish, and also restores the lost orig­i­nal end­ing. The lost Yid­dish world springs to deli­cious life with such savory thoughts as “…the first thing he did was ask where to get a kosher meal and was there a Yid­dish the­ater? Jew­ish fish and Yid­dish the­ater — what could be bet­ter than that?” Else­where, a char­ac­ter writes a let­ter in large char­ac­ters resem­bling bagels.…,” much like the cir­cu­lar nature of this nov­el with its wan­der­ing stars revolv­ing round and round in life. 

Kush­n­er extols Wan­der­ing Stars as “…a blis­ter­ing­ly fun­ny, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly mov­ing, rev­e­la­to­ry chron­i­cle.…” This nov­el shines with stel­lar bril­liance as a painstak­ing­ly authen­tic voice of our word­wide sta­tus as Wan­der­ing Jews. Reveal­ing of author Sholem Ale­ichem him­self, he has one char­ac­ter say about Leo: “…This young artist has appeared among us, like an astro­nom­ic man­i­fes­ta­tion, a bril­liant phe­nom­e­non in the star­ry fir­ma­ment, a bright shin­ing wan­der­ing star… illuminat[ing] the full range of our Yid­dish stage.” So, too, this nov­el reap­pears in its bril­liance, await­ing mod­ern read­er appre­ci­a­tion and gratitude.
Cherie Karo Schwartz is a sto­ry­teller, author, and edu­ca­tor from Den­ver Col­orado. She was a co-found­ing coor­di­na­tor of the Jew­ish Sto­ry­telling Net­work of the Coali­tion for the Advance­ment of Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion. She has writ­ten My Lucky Drei­del, The Kids’ Cat­a­logue of Passover (with Bar­bara Rush), and Cir­cle Spin­ning: Jew­ish Turn­ing and Return­ing Tales. Cherie has shared spir­it-filled, engag­ing sto­ries, per­for­mances and work­shops around the USA and abroad for over forty years. www​.ham​sa​pubs​.com.

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