By Sholom Aleichem
Hey. I’m breaking with my trend here of talking about movies to tell you about the best damn author that ever lived. Then I’ll ramble on about unimportant stuff like I usually do.
I’m not talking about Chuck Palahniuk, or Mario Puzo, or Mark Twain, or any of a billion other names that rank as some of my favorite authors. I’m talking about Sholom frickin’ Aleichem. Uh, frickin’ isn’t his middle name, I just was emphasizing it. His name is Sholom Aleichem. Well, his real name is Shalom Rabinowitz, but we’ll call him by his nickname. He’s been called the Jewish Mark Twain, the Jewish Dickens… but he’s got his own style. It’s sardonic, it’s touching, it’s innocent, it’s wry, it’s clever.
But don’t take my word for it! Read some of these books!
Tevye’s daughters and Tevye the dairy-farmer are quite possibly his most famous books. I am re-reading them now and I laugh at the little jokes and it pulls at my heart every time. You may not know them by these names, because it was later adapted into a stage musical called Fiddler on the Roof. While I don’t normally enjoy musicals, I really liked the way it was adapted when I saw it done in High School, then again when I got the VHS copy with Topol as Tevye. The music is catchy, classic, and the stories (for the most part) stay accurate to the book. The only thing I don’t like is that they portrayed Tevye throughout the story as wishing he could be rich, when Sholem makes such a big deal of Tevye having given up on the rich life in the first chapter. The stories are told in Tevye’s narrative, as if directly to Mr. Aleichem. His daughters and Tevye’s attempts to marry them off get more and more radical and against the norms of his culture as they progress. Tevye, through his quotes and parables, tries to make sense of the world, overall and more specific to his situations.
As much as I love Tevye as the foolish/wise, constantly quoting character, these are not my favorite books. My all-time favorite is by far, Mottel the Cantor’s Son. The back of the book describes Mottel as a “Yiddish Hick Finn.” Don’t judge the book by its back cover, though. He can be described this way, for there are some parallels. For example, Huck’s youth keeps him blissfully ignorant and innocently questioning such issues as racism. Mottel also doesn’t quite understand why the Russians or gentiles or other people hate the Jews. Also, both Huck and Mottel are mischievous and fun-loving. But the comparisons end there. Mottel seems more motivated by artistic creativity and a hedonistic love of life than Huck’s sense of adventure or to go to places unknown. Mottel loves to draw, to write, to sing. Although Mottel’s adventures equal Huck’s, the decision is motivated by his older brother and family members. He doesn’t have the compulsion to run off to live on his own. In fact, he sees his mother as a great protector. In his travels from Russia to America, we get a clever glimpse of the world at that time through the eyes of a growing child. Sadly, Sholem died writing this book, and it ends rather abruptly. That is, it has no ending. Still, I highly recommend it.
As a nice contrast to Mottel’s innocent take on the world, read the adventures of Menachem-Mendel. Menachem-Mendel is a young Jewish man who travels the world, to America and back, finally ending up in Warsaw. There he gets a job in a newspaper office. We see his radical points of view on the world as published in the newspaper. Very compelling taken alone, but the humor of the book comes in his wife’s letters back to him. Witty, clever, and with that clarity that only a woman can provide, it is also interesting to note that her opinions never get published.
Song of Songs is a sweet and innocent little book that I love, but in all honesty I didn’t finish. I should go find my own copy and read it.