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Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life Hardcover – November 14, 2007
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About the Author
Yehoshue Perle (1888-1943) was one of Poland’s most popular, controversial, and prolific Yiddish novelists of the interwarand wartimeperiod. 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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This truly was one of my most enjoyable reads ever. Heart felt story with amazing characters. Wonderful.Published 15 months ago by William F. Bauerband
This book is a combination of realism and folktale that shows
with humor and emotion the life of a young Jewish boy, with his family, friends, and the various people that live... Read more
Not as good as the stories of I.B. Singer. Rambles and then abruptly ends.Published 19 months ago by Sound Mute
thought there would also be stories of the 1920 & 1930 1940Published 20 months ago by Barbara Nelson
I found the book Very tiresome to read. I did get a flavor of pre war Poland's Jews but did not continue to finish the book.Published on July 12, 2014 by grandma flo
Very fast reading. Life in Poland in a jewish village from the point of view of a poor 12 year old boy.Published on July 9, 2014 by Steven Rosenberg
I've read many books about Jewish life in Europe, but none captured the flavor of day today life as well as "Every Day Jews. Read morePublished on June 25, 2014 by Ruth