The Bloody Hoax

Sholem Aleichem, Author, Aliza Shevrin, Translator, Maurice Friedberg, Introduction by Indiana University Press $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-253-30401-8
The publication of a novel never before translated into English by the major Yiddish writer Aleichem (Sholem Rabinowitz, 1859-1916) is, in itself, a literary event. That the novel is as good as The Bloody Hoax adds to the felicity of the occasion. Set primarily in ``a large glorious city where a Jew needs a residence permit,'' in the czarist Russia of 1912-1913, when the book was written, Hoax features schoolfriends trading identities so that the well-born gentile Grisha can understand the sufferings of his Jewish friend Herske. The story begins lightly enough, with Grisha wooing the daughter of his Jewish landlord, trying to explain why he doesn't speak Yiddish or know anything of Jewish ritual, but gradually darkens as Grisha becomes suspected of a ``ritual murder,'' a development based on the Beiliss case (which also inspired Bernard Malamud's The Fixer ). While many of the characters are slender hooks on which a complex plot and astute social observations are hung, Aleichem draws their portraits well, utilizing such stock figures as the nosy mother, the obnoxious and rich in-laws and the befuddled suitor to great effect. At the same time, the urban setting allows him to explore the world of ideas--the budding Zionist movement, the role of Jewish intellectuals--in far more depth than in his tales of shtetl life. Shevrin's translation is sprightly and clever, and professor Maurice Friedberg contributes a useful introduction. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992
Release date: 01/01/1992
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