The events of this novel unfold through the eyes of Hershl, who leaves his small town to become educated only to return to the Pale of Settlement in the wake of the pogroms in 1881. S. Y. Abramovitsh’s famed epic novel explores the social upheaval of Russian Jews who are forced by poverty to leave their homes. The novel achieved canonical status both in its Yiddish original and in its Hebrew version, under the title In the Vale of Tears.
In this work Michael Wex renders the time-worn tale with the skill and ease of a modern storyteller and humorist. Abramovitsh’s artistry lies not in the plot but in his descriptions and ever-shifting narrative voice. Sometimes the narrator (Mendele the Bookseller) speaks from within the shtetl and sometimes from outside; and often he interweaves the high rhetorical prose of Hershl himself, reborn by the novel’s end as Heinrich Cohen. Wex’s adroit new translation will appeal to scholars of Yiddish fiction and general readers alike.