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Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life Hardcover – November 14, 2007

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Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life + The Glatstein Chronicles (New Yiddish Library Series)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (November 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300116373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300116373
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“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 It is an important historical document as well as a fine work of art.”--Joseph Sherman, Oxford University
(Joseph Sherman)

"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 
(Ilan Stavans)

“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

(Religious Studies Review)

About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Meaghan on December 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A novel about a working-class Hassidic Jewish family in Poland sometime in the early 20th century, as narrated by twelve-year-old Mendl. There isn't really a plot, just a slice of life from that time and place. The book becomes all the more significant because it was published in 1935 and the modern reader knows that way of life is about to be destroyed forever: hence the subtitle, "Scenes from a Vanished Life." The author himself died in Auschwitz.

Although the narrator of "Everyday Jews" is a child, this book isn't a children's book by any means. Everyone is sleeping with everyone else, and it's not strictly married couples or even girlfriends and boyfriends who are doing this. Mendl has half-siblings from both parents, and at one point in the story his mother's son tries to have sex with his father's daughter. (Or maybe it was the other way around, I don't remember.) One of his half-sisters becomes pregnant by her employer and then miscarries. A maid and a neighbor girl both try to seduce Mendl himself, though he hasn't even had his bar mitzvah yet. The Polish Jewry of the 1930s was shocked by this book when it came out, though it all seems pretty tame to me, not graphic at all.

I would recommend this book to people interested in Hassidic and/or pre-Holocaust Jewry. It has a few footnotes for clarification and also defines some terms for the Gentile reader. It's a slow-moving story without a lot of action, but beautifully written with some lovely similes, and it really taught me a lot about the prewar Polish Jews.

Another very good, similar book that is non-fiction: Botchki: When Doomsday Was Still Tomorrow by David Zagier, who grew up in the inter-war period in a shtetl much like the one in Perle's book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amy Licence on November 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Hailed as a modern Yiddish masterpiece and dismissed as too bleak to be possible, this new translation of Perle’s 1935 autobiographical novel Everyday Jews belongs in the same tradition as Gorky’s My Childhood and Joyce’s Dubliners.

Exploring the harsh reality of life for a poor family in a provincial Polish town around the year 1900, this story’s focus and subject certainly place it within the remit of literary modernism but not at its heart. Direct and unblinking, it looks the conditions of poverty and abuse in the eye; the terrible snow storm in which the adolescent narrator passes out, his parents’ dysfunctional relationship and the older women who seduce him. It is bleak and shocking. Like Dubliners it captures a dying way of life, wrapping up family occasions and customs in a sort of breathless stasis that some readers may find suffocating.

And yet it is compelling, in a grim sort of way. The writing is lucid and accessible and Perle carries the reader through the various miserable scenes of his early existence with ease. Dostoevskian in places, its imagery and description are simply yet powerfully constructed, building symbolic landscapes of misery. In the Joycean model, though, it is more a collection of still lifes than a progressive narrative. There is little development beyond the passage of time; the dumb mute peasant figure stumbles on, little understanding his destiny or actions. We see the family constrained by customs, such as the day permitted for house removals or oppressed by the pictures hung in the house they have rented from Christians. Only at the end, very briefly, does Perle suddenly open a door, telling us that something had changed for his narrator, some rite of passage had been reached.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LeahD on March 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have always been fascinated with Jewish life and culture. Unfortunately, many of the voices of that life and culture were prematurely stilled. This book gives the reader a look into the events of one family that are distilled down to their basic humanity and emotions. I liked the voice of the young protagonist; he is somewhat detached, yet perspective beyond his years. His observations make one realize that his family is no different from any other family, any where. That we know what is fated to happen a few decades later makes our experiences with them even more poignant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Eric Maroney on November 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Yehoshue Perle’s Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life carries with it the full weight of its subtitle. Published in 1935, Perle would die in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. So it becomes hard to judge this book without that the tight, constricting lens of the Holocaust as its unwritten end point. Like so many writers who perished in the Shoah, their work takes on a new glow, because we read each word with the full awareness that the end is near.

Despite this, and despite its depressing passages replete with poverty, ignorance, and struggle, Perle manages to write a novel that is not without humor. The creeping darkness of the novel's world is lightened by Mendl, the twelve year old protagonist’s observations of life.

So, despite the expert eye of the Mendl, his keen observations of life around him, this novel becomes a bildungsroman, a coming of age novel, and this is fully confirmed by the end.

No doubt Perle was setting his character up to deal with the competing and harsh demands of the Eastern European world between the wars. And these demands, no doubt, would have murdered him.
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