"A charming, by turns serious and comic exploration of the search for identity among small-town Jews. A work of social history as well as literature, Pioneers reminds us that debates over ideas and cultural movements are invariably conducted by imperfect individuals, who are struggling to improve their real-world circumstances."—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Jerusalem Post
"A compelling narrative about struggles for personal and social transformation among ordinary young Jewish men and women in late nineteenth-century Russia. Waldman’s translation makes a valuable contribution to the growing body of An-sky’s works available in English. It will be a source for all scholars, teachers and students of East European Jewish history and literature."—Polly Zavadivker, assistant professor of history, University of Delaware
"A smart, capacious, and original novel, exploring how the Jewish enlightenment movement called Haskala functioned on the ground, in traditional small towns, in the lives of imperfect, inconsistent individuals. Rose Waldman’s translation of the novel is what a translation should be: full, precise, and literate. It does justice to both the variety of speech registers and the technical religious vocabulary by which the characters articulate themselves: not a small accomplishment, and a work to be celebrated and read. "—Lawrence Rosenwald, Anne Pierce Rogers Professor of English, Director, Program in Peace and Justice Studies, Wellesley College
"It is high time for an elegant English translation of this important and charming novel by An-sky. The Pioneers contains essential ethnographic material on the lost world of shtetl Jewry—a society about to be irrevocably transformed—in a classic Yiddish stories-within-a-story form. Waldman’s great pleasure in bringing it to English, and delight in its humor, is evident on every page of this skillful translation."—Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God: A Journey Into the Words and Worlds of the Bible
"Pioneers is not only a fine work of literature but also a valuable ethnographic record…..What makes Pioneers so fascinating is that it is rich in the customs, expressions, and beliefs of a bygone world, and vibrant with the ironies that result from the friction between old and new….Admirably, Waldman does a graceful job of helping the reader to understand the novel in all its nuance."—Ellen Cassedy, Reading in Translation
When young Zalmen Itzkowitz steps off the train on a dark, dreary day at the close of the nineteenth century, the residents of Miloslavka have no idea what’s in store for them. Zalmen is a freethinker who has come to the rural town to earn his living as a tutor. Yet, rather than teach Hebrew, he plans to teach his students the Russian language and other secular subjects. Residents of the town quickly become divided, with some regarding Itzkowitz as the devil’s messenger and others supportive of his progressive ideas. Set during the time of the Haskalah, the great Jewish Enlightenment that was sweeping through Europe, Pioneers is a charming tale of one ambivalent young man’s attempt to join the movement and a compassionate portrait of one shtetl on the brink of transformation.
S. An-sky, pseudonym of Shloyme-Zanvl Rapoport (1863–1920), was a Russian Jewish writer, ethnographer, and cultural and political activist. He is best known today for his play The Dybbuk.
Rose Waldman holds an MFA from Columbia University. Her translations have appeared as a chapbook, “Married” (an I. L. Peretz story), in Have I Got a Story for You (W. W. Norton), in Pakn Treger magazine, and in various literary journals. She was a 2014 and 2016 Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow.