Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch and well-known Yiddish scholar, is currently trying to crowd-fund his next project, a translation of a classic Yiddish novel by Joseph Opatoshu, on Indiegogo, a widely-used website that enables individuals to collect contributions for their intellectual or entrepreneurial pursuits from users all over the world.
The novel in question is called In Polish Forests and is said to contain a stunningly accurate portrayal of Jewish life in rural Poland, outside of the major cities and cultural centers where Jews were normally known to reside. According to Wex, Opatoshu wrote “some of the best prose ever published in Yiddish.” Opatoshu’s writing, while fairly well-known in his own time, never successfully made the transition into English. In Polish Forests, written in 1921, has already been published once in English in 1938, but the translation, which is characterized as lackluster, has virtually faded into oblivion.
Wex is trying to raise $75,000 by June 7th — if he doesn’t reach his goal, he’ll abandon the campaign and any individuals who have contributed will have their money refunded. If he does reach his goal, Wex plans to offer the translated novel as an e‑book/PDF on his website for free, making it completely and indefinitely accessible to everyone who wants to read it. This, he claims, is immeasurably better than having the book published by a university press, which would only pay a small advance for the project and would likely only publish it under a small press run.
Having the translation funded through indiegogo also satisfies the project’s need for immediacy. As Wex argues, the potential for a new translation only continues to diminish as time goes on and the community of scholarly native Yiddish speakers gets smaller. For this project to ever be successful, it’s imperative that those involved in the translation still retain an authentic sense and knowledge of Polish Jewish culture as it was in the nineteenth century.
It’s clear that there are some very good reasons to contribute to the translation of this novel, besides for the perks that are being offered for donations. For contributions as small as one dollar you can get your name on the sponsor list — $5,000 and up, you can even dedicate a chapter of the novel. $60 and above will get you that print, posted right, on a t‑shirt. From a cultural perspective, though, the novel would certainly be an excellent medium through which to sustain a connection to one of the most historically significant Jewish communities. And ultimately – whether you’re Jewish or not — if the prose is actually as engrossing as Wex claims it is, one dollar is a small price to pay for an enduring work of fiction that is both enlightening and entertaining.
You can learn more about the Opatoshu’s novel from Wex’s video, posted above, or from the project’s Indiegogo page.