Edited and translated by David Stromberg
Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Writings on Yiddish and Yiddishkayt: The War Years, 1939-1945, is the first major effort to fill the gap between the Nobel laureate's Yiddish and English oeuvre. Knowing that a whole world, a whole way of life, a whole cultural treasure bound up with Yiddish and Yiddishkayt--that they were all going up in flames before his very eyes--was crushing for Singer, driving him to put pen to paper and write. His wartime writing--appearing in an intensely urgent tone--sought to record not only the customs but also the immediacy of the loss that was taking place at that very moment.
Writings on Yiddish and Yiddishkayt: The War Years, 1939-1945 is the first in a three-volume series, featuring twenty-five carefully curated essays (selected from over 150) written from just before the start of World War II through to its immediate aftermath. Isaac Bashevis Singer originally published each of these pieces under pseudonyms in Forverts, the world’s oldest Yiddish newspaper, when he was still relatively unknown. The essays are arranged chronologically, offering readers the unique opportunity to bear witness to the shifts in Singer’s perspective as history unfolded—a rarity for English audiences, considering that much of Singer’s work was written well before it was eventually translated. Short introductory paragraphs also accompany each piece, offering exact publication dates and remarks about the larger historical and cultural context of Singer’s writing.
While Singer’s foresight, expressions of hope, and scathing critique of demagogues and fascism are products of their time, they are just as essential—and as chillingly relevant—in 2023. Writings on Yiddish and Yiddishkayt serves both as a broader record of the past and offers a close look at a legendary writer coming into his own, in a way that is sure to resonate with a wide range of contemporary readers.
"This collection reaches beyond Singer's later-in-life persona as an avuncular Yiddish man of letters to reveal a complicated writer who was unafraid to display unsanitized emotion and be as provocative in his nonfiction as he was in his fiction. It's a boon for Singer's admirers and newcomers alike."--Publishers Weekly
"This spellbinding collection of essays, written with raw urgency in the Shoah's shadow, offers a new view not just of Bashevis Singer's worldly and other‐worldly tilts but of a Yiddishkeit pumping with great vitality through literary conduits."--Benjamin Balint, author of Bruno Schulz: An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History
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