Everyday Jews

Scenes from a Vanished Life

Yehoshue Perle; Edited by David G. Roskies; Translated by Maier Deshell and Margaret Birstein

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November 14, 2007
384 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300116373
Cloth

When Everyday Jews was first published in Poland in 1935, the Jewish Left was scandalized by the sex scenes, and I. B. Singer complained that the novel was too bleak to be psychologically credible. Yet within two years Perle’s novel was heralded as a modern Yiddish masterpiece. Offering a unique blend of raw sexuality and romantic love, thwarted desire and spiritual longing, Everyday Jews is now considered Perle’s consummate achievement.

 

The voice of Mendl, the novel's 12-year-old narrator, is precisely captured by this artfully simple translation. Mendl's impoverished and dysfunctional family struggles to survive in a nameless Polish provincial town. In his unsettled world, most ordinary people yearn to be somewhere else—or someone else. As Mendl journeys to adulthood, Perle captures the complex interplay of Christians and Jews, weekdays and Sabbaths, town and country, dream and reality, against a relentless and never-ending battle of the sexes.

 

 

Yehoshue Perle (1888-1943) was one of Poland’s most popular, controversial, and prolific Yiddish novelists of the interwar—and wartime—period. In his introduction to the novel, David G. Roskies, Sol & Evelyn Henkind Professor of Yiddish Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, opens up Perle's tragic life and undiscovered oeuvre to a new generation of readers.

“Perle’s highly regarded Yiddish novel reads with freshness and vitality. It is an important historical document as well as a fine work of art.”--Joseph Sherman, Oxford University

"I was enthralled by Perle's Everyday Jews. It shows the tension between Eros and Thanatos in a Polish town in a way that combines the phantasmagorical work of Bruno Schulz with the ethnological reportage of S. Ansky. An extraordinarily document, written in a vivid style, the blunt, animated reaction it awakened is not unlike the prudishness that greeted D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love when it first came out. And to think that even Isaac Bashevis Singer blushed."—Ilan Stavans 

"Everyday Jews, in this incarnation, pulsates with life and energy, mingling literature and history."—Gloria Goldreich, Congress Monthly

"The ferment that was 1930's Poland yielded a slew of literary masterpieces. One of them, Yehoshue Perle's semi-autobiographical Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life, has now been published in an excellent English translation. . . . Artistically thrilling and morally uncompromising."—Susanne Klingenstein, Commentary

"It is the voice of Mendl, the 12-year-old narrator, that initially seduces the reader of this novel, which first appeared in 1935. Using his own intimate recollections of his past, Perle allows the reader to become an observer of life in a teeming, long-ago Yiddish village now usurped by modern civilization. The language of the book is simple and poetic  and appropriate to a young storyteller. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

“Widely regarded as one of the classics of modern Yiddish literature, this novel merits serious attention. . . . The learned and profound introduction by D. Roskies gives the reader the background to the author and the novel so that it can be understood in context.”

--Religious Studies Review

Winner of the fifth Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies for an outstanding translation of a Yiddish literary work, given by the Modern Language Association of America

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