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A Simple Story (Library of Modern Jewish Literature)

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0815606185
ISBN-10: 0815606184
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The appearance in translation of a novel by a Nobel Laureate is cause for rejoicing, even when it sits less comfortably in English than in the original Hebrew. A story of a marriage, it takes place in Szybusz, a fictional town in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Blume Nacht, after her mother's death, becomes a servant in the house of cousins, whose son Hirshl falls in love with her. Blume, beautiful and almost superhumanly capable, repudiates Hirshl, a bit of a simpleton. He, when pressed by his substantial parents, slips bewilderedly into marriage with Mina, a heavily cologned boarding-school graduate. Blume meanwhile moves to another household and is rarely seen again, leaving the reader's expectations unfulfilled. Hirshl's too, for she is ever-present in his heart, stunting his sexual relationship with Mina and driving him from melancholy to madness. That he recovers, returns to his wife, and begins to find in what had been an emptyheaded, passive girl robust sensuality and social understanding, seems to reflect his emerging maturity and acceptance of the bourgeois solidity represented by his parents and the town itself. Agnon's achievement is to have combined gentle mockery of the myriad characters he brings so engagingly to life with staunch championing of values and customs that were soon to be doomed. His scholarship and literary astuteness inform a story that is at once rich in biblical allusion and redolent of the society in which he was raised. December
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Nobel Laureate Agnon died in 1970 with several works not translated into English; it is good to have now this readable and entertaining Simple Story published originally in 1935. Blume Nacht, newly orphaned, goes to the town of Szybusz to live with her Aunt Tsirl and Uncle Boruch Hurvitz, shop owners there, and their son Hirshl. Blume and Hirshl fall in love, but Tsirl has other plans for her Hirshl. She meets with the matchmaker, and soon Hirshl finds himself beneath the wed ding canopy with Mina Ziemlich, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, though he stills pines away for sweet Blume. Before very long, Hirshl and Mina have a child, and with a twist of Old World simplicity, they live happily ever after. What becomes of Blume? That, the au thor teasingly tells us, would fill anoth er book (one he never got to write, alas). Highly recommended for general collections. Marcia G. Fuchs, Guil ford Free Lib., Ct.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Modern Jewish Literature
  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815606184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815606185
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,717,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
The forground of this book is very simple: a young man hopelessly falls in love for a woman he can't marry. But in the background a deep psychological plot slowly evolves and carries the reader to the complex world of the Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before WW 2. Agnon as usual is very perceptive, very smart and writes with his wonderful combination of humor,cynicism and compassion.
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Format: Paperback
This is indeed a simple story, simply told, of events that are less than earth-shattering. It involves birth, marriage and death; matchmaking, love, commerce, travel to strange but not too distant places, religion, and a measure of scholarship; all the commonplace features of settled life as it moves through succeeding generations.

The setting is a fictionalized version of the author's birthplace, now Buchach, Ukraine, but at the time - along with the rest of Galicia - a backwater of the pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Russo-Japanese War and Dreyfus' acquittal provide noises off, dating the events described to about 1906, a couple of years before Agnon, at the age of 19, left Galicia for Palestine. He wrote the novel in 1935.

In common with many other central European towns and villages, Buchach was for several centuries prior to the Second World War a shtetl, a town dominated by a Jewish population whose way of life accorded with traditional Hebraic teaching. In A Simple Story, Agnon writes that the town had more than 15,000 people, of whom more than half were Jews. Rich or poor, master or servant, all the principal and all but a few minor characters in the novel are Jewish.

A large part of the interest of the novel derives from Agnon's portrayal of the shtetl way of life, which was permanently destroyed by the holocaust. The simple, deliberately naive tone adopted by the narrator is ideally suited to describing a life-style that was based on customs, traditions and inherited assumptions that, superficially at least, were accepted without close examination or question. Much of the legacy made a virtue of being antiquated, but the community was flexible enough to adapt to the times, and had probably always done so.
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Format: Paperback
Enjoyable story set in the Jewish community of a small Ukrainian town at the turn of the century. It opens with a poor young Jewish girl being sent to live with her better-off shopkeeper relatives, after being left an orphan. However she is not the central character of the book - that is her relatives' teenage son, Hirschl. Will he and the good (but penniless) Blume be able to make a match? Or will he succumb to parental pressure for someone better for their son?...

The tale is narrated in a way that makes you feel, at times, that you are listening to a village story-teller entertaining an audience. From the opening sentence ('The widow Mirl lay ill for many years') it's as if he is talking to people who are familiar with the characters. Rhetorical questions and little homilies punctuate the writing.
I love the comic asides -one character, feeling 'out of it' at a party 'was perfectly presentable, yet unaccustomed to society as he was he kept touching himself to make sure that his tie was still in place and that his socks had not fallen down. He stood there uncertainly, running a hand over his clothes as though he had lice.'

Yet life is far from easy: as one character observes 'What a pitiful thing human life was. A man slept all night in order to rise in the morning, and looked forward all day to sleeping again at night. And between sleeping and waking, what a lot of guff he had to take.' When you finish reading this 'simple story', it makes you think about the way we are required to knuckle down to what society demands of us, and assume the mantle of adulthood.
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A superb tale of multiple Jews in one predominant eastern Galicia community in the early 1900s. THe book is a wonderfully spirited opportunity to experience several types of Jewish life in these villages through a variety of characters magnificently described by Agnon and expertly translated by Halkin. Biblical relationships to people, places and events in the Bible are easily theorized or pictured. Interpersonal relationships are movingly described with one's own emotional attachments and detachments to almost every character.
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