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‘Fiddler’ meets ‘Sopranos’: Gritty Sholem Aleichem novel in English for 1st time

50 12 28

JTA — Move over, Tevye the dairyman. Make room for Moshkele the thief, the rough-and-tumble rogue hero from the wrong side of the shtetl in a newly rediscovered work of fiction by Sholem Aleichem.

The recent publication of “Moshkele the Thief: A Rediscovered Novel,” translated from the original Yiddish and with an introduction by Curt Leviant, marks the first-ever English-language translation of the novella by perhaps the most popular and most widely read Yiddish writer.

Sholem Aleichem, the pen name of Shalom Rabinowitz (1859-1916), was a masterful storyteller whose keen eye, wit and humor earned him a reputation as the Jewish Mark Twain. He left a legacy of novels, plays, essays and stories that have been translated into dozens of languages. His fictional stories of Tevye, the everyman’s philosopher of Jewish life, family and faith in a shtetl village in Czarist Russia, inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

But even though Aleichem could write about flawed characters and the grittier side of shtetl life, Moshkele is a far cry from Tevye. The all-but-forgotten tale, first serialized in Yiddish in a Warsaw newspaper in 1903 — a year before Rabinowitz would leave Kyiv for New York City, and three years before his death at 57 — explores the underside of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The novella brims with the doings of horse thieves, cheats, swindlers and a pious tavern keeper who doesn’t hesitate to show off his comely daughters to sell a few more bottles of vermouth.

The book also captures relations between Jews and non-Jews, another rarity in popular Yiddish........

© The Times of Israel

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