Book Reviews

Book Reviews, Literature

The Dark Young Man – Jacob Dinezon

Dark Young Man All contemporary fiction eventually becomes historical fiction, especially when it’s translated and re-published 125 years after its initial release. Yiddish readers first celebrated Jacob Dinezon’s novels in 1877, but thanks to Tina Lunson’s new English language translation of his debut The Dark Young Man (adaptation by Scott Hilton Davis), his writing is now more accessible than ever before.

Reading Dinezon’s work, it’s easy to understand why The Dark Young Man became a best-seller in its time. Dinezon is a natural story-teller, maintaining humor and suspense throughout the book. His diverse cast of characters, while sometimes veering towards the predictable, jump off the page with a vibrant humanity. Readers may feel like they’ve met them before, but it’s with this sense of familiarity that Dinezon brings authenticity to their voices.

With its cosmopolitan setting, The Dark Young Man offers a sharper, less nostalgic image of Jewish life in Eastern Europe than readers of Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer may expect. Yosef, the book’s protagonist, navigates the tension between his traditional upbringing and exposure to modern ideas without succumbing to unbearable angst. The business of middle-class life, trade, and politics all occur in tandem with the Jewish calendar and life cycle events. Above all, The Dark Young Man is the story of a family – the lovers at its center and the forces that threaten to upend their happiness. As such it has a timeless quality, with themes as relevant now as they were 100 years ago.

Lunson’s faithful translation maintains Dinezon’s original pacing and is painstaking in its attention to Yiddish idiom. Non-Yiddish speakers will be perfectly at home in this narrative, although those more familiar with the language might find it overly formal in places. Characters take leave of each other with “go in good health”, an accurate if solemn expression of the Yiddish “zei gezunt”. Others are described as “idlers” when they’re clearly schnorrers. Most readers would probably experience smoother sailing if Lunson had simply left such phrases untouched. Alas, in the debate for colloquialism versus consistency, consistency must have won the day.

Readers who enjoy a good story with a strong plot and well-developed characters will find much to appreciate in The Dark Young Man. It is well-suited to book club discussions and as a starting point for examining the lives of middle class Jews in Russia in the 19th century. As an example of popular Yiddish literature, it’s a fun and fast read, perfect for a relaxing Sabbath afternoon.

BooksandBlintzes received an Advance Reader Copy of this book at no charge for the express purpose of writing this review. The views included here are solely those of the reviewer. The Dark Young Man has a publication date of February 12, 2019. Additional information about the book and its adaptation can be found at https://www.jewishstorytellerpress.com/the-dark-young-man-press-room

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Tevet - Burning Bush

“Stone of Sinai” – Natural Sculpture

Stones_of_Sinai

Photo by Mushki Brichta: “A granite stone from the area of mount Sinai showing what seems to be a depiction of a bush, created naturally by a concentration of manganese oxide which forms into this shape in the rock.

[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stones_of_Sinai.jpg)

 

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Sculpture, Tevet - Burning Bush

The Weiser Memorial – “Burning Bush”

Northern Hills Memorial

The Weiser Memorial “Burning Bush” sculpture at the Northern Hills Synagogue in Cincinnati, OH. Designed by Julie Staller-Pentelnik and sculpted by David Klass, created in memory of congregant Norman Weiser in 2006.

https://www.nhs-cba.org/WeiserMemorial.htm

 

Book Reviews, Literature, Poetry

Texts to the Holy – Rachel Barenblat

Texts to the Holy

Rachel Barenblat’s Texts to the Holy approaches some of the most serious topics with the lightest of touches. Barenblat’s linguistic dexterity gently guides her readers through an examination of faith. It is a brilliant example of how words can keep our feet on the ground while our minds and hearts explore more ephemeral ideas.

Barenblat’s poems bridge literature and liturgy, and reading them slowly are a meditative practice. Prayer book editors, clergy, and others who are looking to incorporate contemporary writing into their religious services, may find Barenblat’s work to be exactly what they need.

Barenblat successfully avoids the pitfalls of cliche and over-familiarity, protecting the sophistication of both her subject and writing. The collection will likely resonate more profoundly with a mature reader, acting as an effective foil to one’s personal life and spiritual experience. The close partnership between poetry and reader may mean that this text may be difficult to use in a larger educational setting. However, Barenblat’s work deserves a wide showcase as an example of the power of modern Jewish poetry.

Jewish Text Art Challenge Galleries, Tevet - Burning Bush

Behold, The Bush Burned With Fire

It’s easy to overlook the Hebrblog coverew month of Tevet’s arrival. Chanukah celebrations are in full swing, and the only “holiday” is a minor fast on the 10th day of the month.

But in the annual cycle of Torah reading, Tevet contains a featured event. We complete the Book of Breishit (Genesis) and begin the Book of Shemot (Exodus). While we won’t get to the Israelite’s actual exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery until next month, the first chapters of the Book of Shemot contain some of the most well-known and pivotal scenes in all of Biblical literature – including Moses’ meeting with God at the site of the burning bush.

We selected this verse that begins this encounter as this month’s Jewish Text Art Challenge because of its essential role in the story of the Jewish people. It incorporates ideas of faith, relationship, holiness, spiritual transformation, individual power, miracles and magic, just to name a few. We are looking forward to sharing some of our favorite art inspired by this text, and hope that it will get all of our creative juices flowing.