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Posts Tagged ‘Sholem Aleichem’


August 2, 2011 | by

On a recent Friday evening I went to see the new documentary Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness at a West Side theater that, on any given day, swings heavily Jewish and seriously elderly and on this occasion surpassed itself on both counts. The audience arrived early, settled slowly, talked loudly, and laughed at Yiddish jokes before they were translated, probably among the last people in the world able to do so. My own few words of the language—picked up in a class I briefly flirted with at the 92nd Street Y—were of little help.

That class was held only a few blocks from my grandparents’ apartment, and each week, I’d go there afterward for a late dinner. They were glad to see me regularly—I wasn’t, typically, on the Upper East Side—but the nature of the class made the dinners particularly meaningful. My grandfather would speak to me in Yiddish. I’d known it was his first language, of course, but he never spoke it normally, and it was surprising to see him slip into it as if eighty years hadn’t elapsed.

My grandfather, who died earlier this year, was a librettist, which is to say he wrote the dialogue for musicals. He started in radio, worked in early TV, and in the fifties made the move to Broadway. Looking for new material in the early sixties, he rediscovered Sholem-Aleichem’s tales of shtetl life and transformed them into an unlikely musical that became Fiddler on the Roof. (He had come to my sixth-grade class and told us about its inception—the difficulty of finding producers, the skeptics and naysayers, the creative team’s unwavering commitment to the project—during our “Immigration” unit.) Read More »


Staff Picks: Archaeologies of the Future, the Last Live Nude Girls

July 15, 2011 | by

As a supplement to our science-fiction issue, I’ve been reading Fredric Jameson’s super brainy Archaeologies of the Future, his defense of SF as the last redoubt of utopianism. Jameson also makes some helpful distinctions between SF and fantasy, to the detriment of the latter (a nice antidote to Harry Potter mania). It has brought back memories of many childhood afternoons spent reading Asimov, Le Guin, and Frank Herbert—books I thought I’d forgotten but am happy to rediscover. —Robyn Creswell

I’ve been fully immersed in Sheila McClear’s memoir The Last of the Live Nude Girls, about her time spent working in a Times Square peep showeye-opening, gritty, and compelling. —Sadie Stein

The theme of the summer issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is food, and by golly is it delicious! A taste of the issue’s excerpt from Vasari’s Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: “Andrea presented an octagonal church like San Giovanni, but resting on columns. The pavement was formed of jelly, resembling a variously colored mosaic; the columns, which looked like porphyry, were large sausages; the bases and capitals Parmesan cheese; the cornices were made of pastry and sugar, and the tribunes of quarters of marzipan. In the middle was a choir desk made of cold veal, with a book of lasagna, the letters and notes being formed of peppercorns.”Clare Fentress

Inspired by a book-cover painting by Leanne Shapton, I’ve been reading a vintage Penguin edition of Bonjour Tristesse. If I can’t be in the south of France ... —Thessaly La Force

I’m contributing from the Palovista Ranch this week, where I’ve been writing but also rereading one of my favorite novels, Blood Meridian and, for the first time, Suttree. As expected, Cormac McCarthy is the perfect companion for long walks around the desert. —Natalie Jacoby

If you get a chance to see the documentary Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, be sure to: it’s not just a portrait of the iconic Yiddish writer but also of a lost world. I found it deeply moving. —S. S.

Dani Shapiro on the difference having a child has on a memoirist: “After all, one can’t write with abandon if one is worrying about the consequences. And to have children is to always, always worry about the consequences.” —T. L.

I’ve got a girl crush on former Paris Review intern, Believer editor, and author extraordinaire Vendela Vida. Read her Guardian interview on lying, The Lovers, and why she and Dave Eggers don’t linger over dinner. —Mackenzie Beer