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Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish Classics)
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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 1999
Sholem Aleichem wrote his stories as a modern Mitnagdic Jew about the "old country" twenty to thirty years after the supposed time setting. Aleichem who had never lived the kind of life that Tevye did, far from it at that, used life stories of people as his inspiration. Although I have a personal predeliction for the musical "Fiddler on the Roof", the stories of Tevye the Dairy Man are among the greatest of all Yiddish literature and the musical just does not do it justice. Issues ranging from the changing times in the larger realm of Russia in the late 19th century to Tevye's own personal faith in God are raised in this masterful collection. One must realize that these stories were written years apart and Aleichem's socio/political views are reflected changingly as they were written. The writer was a master of internal monologue where he has Tevye talking the entire time, yet often you forget and feel as if it is another character. The constant usage of Yiddish, Biblical and liturgical phrases might confuse the first time reader, but this edition contains a very helpful notes section in the back of the book. As part of one's own personal education or for provacative literature for enjoyment, this is one that deserves the attention it receives. I highly recomend it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Hillel Halkin is a master translator. His translation of the Sholem Aleichem stories takes out what might be called a 'corny archaic ' element in some other translations.

Sholem Aleichem's humor and pathos, the non- ending dialogue of his Tevye with God, the Yiddish world of Eastern Europe now lost, the questioning ironic often tender tone, are all here.

Read and enjoy.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 1998
This excellent collection of Sholem Aleichem's stories proves that despite the differences between the modern world and Tevye's, human nature doesn't change. All of Tevye's best qualities--his love of knowledge and for his rebellious daughters--are portrayed with his worst--his stubborness. This is a book that can be read again and again even if one has no knowledge of the meaning of Tevye's Yiddish proverbs.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 16, 2010
Tevye The Dairyman
And
The Railroad Stories

By Sholem Aleichem

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

In the Jewish community Sholem (Rabinovich) Aleichem is considered a classic. His character, Tevye the Dairyman, is the very same character we encounter in that wonderful musical "Fiddler on the Roof." It is this group of stories by Sholem Aleichem on which the musical play is based.

I have enjoyed the music and the play, Fiddler on the Roof, for years. It just recently occurred to me that this great tale immortalized in the play must have had an author. I then discovered Sholem Aleichem.

Sholem Aleichem is a pseudonym used by the author to protect himself and his job as "crown rabbi," a state appointed clerical position for a Jewish community in the Russian Ukraine. In Yiddish it translates to "Hello There."

I must say that the story of Tevye the Dairyman and his wife and daughters may be the most impressive bit of fiction story writing that I have ever read. I have been trying to think of some great American writers to compare this man to, but no one comes to mind. This author stands out as a one of a kind.

The manner in which the author presents hope and despair simultaneously is only equaled by his ability to provoke laughter and tears also simultaneously.

I suppose some might be turned off by the "ethnic" nature of the stories but the stories were, in fact, written originally in Yiddish and were directed to a Jewish audience. Only via the efforts of the translator, Hillel Halkin, are we, the general audience, provided the privilege of enjoying this joyous celebration of the tragedy of life - in specific, the quite unique life of the historical Jewish community.

The "Jewish Experience," as it is often called, is an unfortunate experience that is mimicked over and over for every generation of Jew and millions of non-Jew around the world. It is, of course, the all too familiar story of bigotry, prejudice, persecution and perseverance.

How the author incorporates, God, religion, politics, wealth, poverty and the day to day trials and tribulations of the everyday existence of a poor, struggling family man is an accomplishment certainly deserving of classical praise. All this and it is very, very funny too. Writers around the world dream of having this capacity. This kind of writing is what writing is all about. Enough said.

This is two books in one. In "The Railroad Stories" we go from the sublime to the prejudice. We leave the wonderful universal character of Tevye and we go commuting on the railroad. These stories display openly every imaginable type of prejudice existing at the time. Every main character is a "Jew." There are tall Jews, short Jew, pompous ass Jews, well-off Jews ... Jew after Jew after Jew. But then, of course, this is a book written by a Jew in Yiddish for consumption by other Jews. But I doubt that in today's world this attitude would be considered acceptable even within the Jewish community.

We see the stereotypical conniving, manipulative male Jewish character, and their overbearing and demanding wives - often referred to as "cows," their obnoxious children, useless relatives and so on. We are continually faced with the dumb goy, the brick-headed Russian, and the obnoxious, hypocritical Christians.

But if the modern, reader can get past all of this and understand the history of it all, it becomes a cleaver study in the evolution of divergent cultures.

The narrator introduces the reader to each new train car passenger and then the passenger narrates his tale. Difficult for an editor to punctuate but easy to read.

Being my age, I associate the style and attitude of each narrator with older stand-up Jewish comedians like Alan King and even Molly Goldberg. But Alan and Molly are ethnic but universal. They are heavy on style or even sarcasm but avoid the roughness of Sholem Aleichem in these railroad tales.

Many of the stories are truly hilarious - but there is always that under-riding crudeness and bigotry. I don't know what the younger audience would think of these type stories today. I'm left with very mixed emotions.

Tevye the Dairyman I give five stars. I would give it more if there were more available to award. The Railroad Stories get only three stars. I liked them but ... but they are difficult. Clearly the author is attempting to bond with "the Jew" of his era and locale. The bonding is obvious and the author makes his case clear in the last story. This is a book directed at "third class" Jews.

Richard Edward Noble - The Hobo Philosopher - Author of:

"A Summer with Charlie" Salisbury Beach, Lawrence YMCA
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2005
Picked up this collection after seeing Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway... Very good, especially the Tevye chapters. Typical Eastern-European Yiddish form: mostly serious, often tragic stories written in a humorous, sarcastic tone. Be ware of catch phrases getting stuck in your head... geared towards people with some historic understandind shtetl life in Czarist Russia. Deffinately wets your apetite for more Yiddish literature.

p.s. If you're unsure whether you'll enjoy this type of literature, check out "Gimpel the Fool", a short story by I.B. Singer. Its great, and it will give you an idea of what to expect.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2010
Titling this review "A Classic!" immediately brought to mind Mark Twain's comment: "Classic. A book everybody praises but nobody reads." Often true ... but that would be a sad mistake in this case. This is great, highly enjoyable reading!

Having been reading some very good literature that either (inevitably) ended in the Holocaust or was informed by the Holocaust, I commented to an acquaintance that I wished I could find some Jewish literature that was uninformed by the Holocaust. He shook his head and began, "Well, ..." and I said, "I mean, I wish there was a 19th Century Eastern European Jewish equivalent to Mark Twain!" His face lit up and he said, "There is! Sholem Aleichem!"

The first book I got at amazon was "Classic Yiddish Stories of S.Y. Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and I.L. Peretz (Judaic Traditions in Literature, Music, and Art)" Very good! It led me to this book.

The 8 Tevye stories, collected as "Tevye the Dairyman" are the masterwork of this collection, richly bringing to life a world that was even then disappearing. the characters become flesh and blood in these monologues delivered by Tevye to Sholem Aleichem. Tears through laughter. Laughter through tears. Their lives were " ... not exactly strewn with roses ... " even then.

The 20 Railroad Stories are a highly enjoyable -though lesser- opus by this perceptive author. The connection -very loose here- is that they are stories observed by, or told to, a commercial traveler riding in the 3rd class railroad cars.

The 33 page introduction is excellent. I might recommend reading it afterwards, though, as there are one or two spoilers in the discussion.

There's also a 25 page glossary at the end of the book, primarily translations of the Hebrew quotations if one wants to dig deeper, but it's not necessary to enjoy the stories. Aleichem wrote with the knowledge that many of his readership read Yiddish but -like me- didn't know Hebrew.

Highly recommended.

"No matter how bad things get you got to go on living, even if it kills you." -Sholem Aleichem
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2007
I really enjoyed the entire book! The ones associated with Fiddler on the Roof as well as all the others. These stories gave a more in depth perspective of the Russian Jews and the pogroms that they as well as other targeted Russians had to endure. It showed their incredible strength, faith and sense of community that helped them survive. Thank you for a really good book! History at its best!!!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 13, 2007
What struck me most about these stories, in addition to the sensitive and thoughtful translation and the wonderful Tevye character, is that they don't really depict the long-lost, static, traditional culture of the Eastern European shtetl (Jewish village). By the time Sholem Aleichem wrote these stories, the life of the shtetl was disintegrating. It was a transitional time, when emigration to America, the influence of Western culture, the pull of socialism and other radical movements, and many other forces were already acting upon traditional Judaism. Tevye, whose knowledge of Jewish sources is picturesque but not very deep, was one of the most knowledgeable people in his town. That pretty much says it all.

The Tevye stories are unforgettable, the "railroad" stories of more mixed quality. That is why I only gave the book four stars. Still, highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2014
I have taken several classes about Sholem Aleichem. But, this story in its original tells a wonderful story about the changing forces at that time in the Shetel. It feels like I am there. But who am I! Better question: who were my grandparents who also left at this time?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2014
This author is a genius in depicting the Jewish life of his times, early 20th century. For those who enjoyed "Fiddler On The Roof" it has a familiar ring but it is appealing to anyone interested in the topic.
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