The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son

Sholem Aleichem; Translated and with an introduction by Hillel Halkin

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August 1, 2002
358 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/5
ISBN: 9780300172485
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This volume presents an outstanding new translation of two favorite comic novels by the preeminent Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859–1916). The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl portrays a tumultuous marriage through letters exchanged between the title character, an itinerant bumbler seeking his fortune in the cities of Russia before departing alone for the New World, and his scolding wife, who becomes increasingly fearful, jealous, and mystified. Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son is the first-person narrative of a mischievous and keenly observant boy who emigrates with his family from Russia to America. The final third of the story takes place in New York, making this Sholem Aleichem’s only major work to be set in the United States.

Motl and Menakhem-Mendl are in one sense opposites--the one a clear-eyed child and the other a pathetically deluded adult. Yet both are ideal conveyors of the comic disparity of perception on which humor depends. If Motl sees more than do others around him, Menakhem-Mendl has an almost infinite capacity for seeing less. Sholem Aleichem endows each character with an individual comic voice to tell in his own way the story of the collapse of traditional Jewish life in modern industrial society as well as the journey to America, where a new chapter of Jewish history begins. This volume includes a biographical and critical introduction as well as a useful glossary for English-language readers.

Hillel Halkin is a widely respected translator of Yiddish and Hebrew and a frequent contributor to Commentary, The Forward, and The Jerusalem Post.

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"An excellent, fluid translation."—Philip Graubart, The Jerusalem Report

"The ’New Yiddish Library’ series . . . promises to make a valuable contribution to library collections. . . . If Roskies’ introduction is any indication of introductions to come, readers are in for something very special. Here he provides the best essay available in English on Manger. It is both scholarly and readable. The translations themselves are excellent, and the scholarly apparatus makes this a volume useful to a wide public. This reviewer cannot wait for more volumes to appear."—Choice

"The two works here provide a perfect background to understand the extraordinary changes taking place in the East European Jewish shtetl at the end of the 19th century, as this world was shaking on its foundations. . . . Halkin’s translations and introduction are of the high quality one has come to expect from him."—Choice 

"Remarkable new translations. . . . These new translations give this orphaned literature what it needs and deserves: a chance for English readers to adopt it and bring it home."—Dara Horn, Forward 

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