"Highly readable and enjoyable."—Gennady Estraikh, New York University
"This comprehensive collection of Jonah Rosenfeld’s piercing short fiction is an original contribution to the art of Yiddish short fiction in English translation."—Jan Schwarz, Lund University
"Mines' translation into readable, contemporary English grants overdue recognition to a writer whose work has been called by the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe "a hidden treasure of modern Yiddish literature.""—Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations
A major literary figure and frequent contributor to the Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts from the 1920s to the mid-1930s, Jonah Rosenfeld was recognized during and after his lifetime as an explorer of human psychology. His work foregrounds loneliness, social anxiety, and people’s frustrated longing for meaningful relationships—themes just as relevant to today’s Western society as they were during his era.
The Rivals and Other Stories introduces nineteen of Rosenfeld’s short stories to an English-reading audience for the first time. Unlike much of Yiddish literature that offers a sentimentalized view of the tight knit communities of early twentieth-century Jewish life, Rosenfeld’s stories portray an entirely different view of pre-war Jewish families. His stories are urban, domestic dramas that probe the often painful disjunctions between men and women, parents and children, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, self and society. They explore eroticism and family dysfunction in narratives that were often shocking to readers at the time they were published.
Following the Modernist tradition, Rosenfeld rejected many established norms, such as religion and the assumption of absolute truth. Rather, his work is rooted in psychological realism, portraying the inner lives of alienated individuals who struggle to construct a world in which they can live. These deeply moving, empathetic stories provide a counterbalance to the prevailing idealized portrait of shtetl life and enrich our understanding of Yiddish literature.
Jonah Rosenfeld (1881–1944) was born in Chartorysk, Russia, and immigrated to New York in 1921. He was the author of twenty volumes of short stories, three novels, and a dozen plays.
Rachel Mines teaches in the English Department at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada. She was a Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow in 2016.