Wandering Stars

Viking  2009

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.

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