A Bridge of Longing is a compelling history of how Yiddish storytelling became the politics of rescue for successive generations of displaced Jewish artists, embodying their fervent hopes and greatest fears in the languages of tradition. Its protagonists are modern writers who returned to storytelling in the hope of harnessing the folk tradition, and who created copies that are better than the original.
When the cultural revolution failed--as it did for Rabbi Nahman of Bratslaw in the summer of 1806 and for I. L. Peretz in the winter of 1899; for Kiev novelist Sholem Aleichem in 1890 and kibbutz novelist Yosl Birstein in 1960; for Polish-Jewish refugees Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jechiel Isaiah Trunk when they cast ashore in America--there seemed but one route out of the spiritual and creative impasse, and that was storytelling. Yiddish storytelling was a lost art, relegated to obscurity among religious texts and synagogue sermons, then willfully abandoned by Jewish rebels and immigrants seeking more cosmopolitan forms of expression. Thus its recovery is a tale of loss and redemption.
Behind the joyous weddings that end the fairy tales and romances of Rabbi Nahman, I. L. Peretz, Der Nister, and Abraham Sutzkever; beneath the folksy facade of holiday stories by I. M. Dik and Sholem Aleichem, the Bible Poems of Itzik Manger, the demon-monologues of I. B. Singer, there lies, according to David G. Roskies, an aesthetic and moral sensibility totally at odds with the coarse humor and conventional piety of the folk. Taken together, these writers and their deceptively simple folk narratives weave a pattern of rebellion, loss, and retrieval that Roskies calls "creative betrayal"--a pattern he traces from the weddings of Yiddish fantasy to the reinvented traditions of contemporary Jews. His book itself is a delightful expression of the art of storytelling--it is a warm and vivid account.
An ambitious, learned...study of two centuries of Yiddish literature...Roskies has produced an often brilliant scholarly volume that will help rescue the 'lost art of Yiddish storytelling' by explaining what it really was.
This is a good book...I read [it] with admiration and pleasure...[Roskies's] analysis of Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and Manger is masterly, his study of Singer, inspired. His book is about the most stimulating guide to the Yiddish classics available in the English language.
Fascinating and persuasive...In this insightful and erudite study [Roskies shows that] Yiddish writers...were literary craftsmen who rediscovered and then refashioned traditional stories and did it so successfully that today their re-creations seem like original folk tales...He makes a strong case.
[Roskies's] book can be seen as a history of secular Jewish culture in Europe, not a comprehensive history, but a metonymic one. He examines a very significant strand of that culture in detail, with the purpose of shedding light on the whole...A very lively and entertaining writer, Roskies is often elusive in expressing his ideas and summing up the messages he draws from the writers he discusses. This elusiveness is intentional, allowing him to remain true to the writers he presents...The picture of Jewish culture that emerges from his book is rich in paradox, a welter of lively voices, humor in the face of catastrophe and hope won from despair (as well as despair following hope), and amalgam of inner contradictions too multifaceted and incoherent to exist. Nevertheless, it continues to exist and to renew itself. A Bridge of Longing is entirely Jewish in its concern, yet it is far from a parochial book, for the process of creative betrayal that Roskies explores is one that takes place in every modern literary culture, from the rural England of Thomas Hardy and the rural American south of William Faulkner through the Trinidad of V. S. Naipal, Akira Kurosawa's epic films about medieval Japan, and the Latin American settings of Gabriel García Márquez.
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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