"This work offers an important contribution, emphasizing connections between the spheres of Hebrew and Yiddish literary production that are often underexamined."—Jessica Kirzane, editor-in-chief, In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies
"Redfield’s new selection of Berdichevsky’s Yiddish writings, finely translated and accompanied by an illuminating introduction and helpful notes, will surprise even those who thought they knew Berdichevsky well."—Hillel Halkin, author of The Lady of Hebrew and Her Lovers of Zion
"Redfield’s beautiful translations of Berdichevsky’s Yiddish writings render these wonderful tales for the first time in English. Extensive introductions by Redfield and Avner Holtzman do a masterful job of setting the stories in their historical and literary contexts."—David Biale, University of California, Davis
"From a Distant Relation presents the English-speaking community with wonderful renditions of Jewish short stories by a conflicted writer telling tales of a long-forgotten world."—San Diego Jewish World
"What is evident throughout these superb tales of turn-of-century shtetl life is their authenticity. . . . A cunning selection of Mikhah Yosef Berdichevsky's Yiddish pieces."—The Arts Fuse
"Anyone interested in Yiddish literature will definitely want to read From a Distant Relation."—The Reporter
"Redfield advocates for Berdichevsky to be included in the pantheon of Yiddish fiction writers widely read throughout the English-speaking world. And—especially in the over forty one-to three-page fictional monologues in which millers, shopkeepers, cantors, a cigarette seller, an aging rebetsn, parents, and those down on their luck wheedle and needle and tell their troubles and dreams to Reb Yosl, a persona like Berdichevsky himself, who appears as the returned 'distant relation.' — Redfield succeeds."—Sharon Elswit, Jewish Book Council
In his short life (1865–1921), Mikhah Yosef Berdichevsky was a versatile and influential man of letters: an innovative Hebrew prose stylist; a collector of Jewish folklore; a scholar of ancient Jewish and Christian history. He was at once a peer of Friedrich Nietzsche, the Brothers Grimm, and a diverse circle of Jewish writers in the Russian Empire and German-speaking countries. As a Yiddish writer, however, he remains unknown to general readers. Written in 1902-1906, but not published in full until the 1920s, his stories were dismissed by prominent critics and viewed as out of step with the literary taste of his own time. Yet these vivid portraits of a small Jewish town (shtetl) in the southern Russian Empire can speak powerfully to new audiences today.
With enchanting humor, social satire, and verbal dexterity, From a Distant Relation captures the world of the shtetl in a sharp realist prose style. Themes of repressed desire, poverty, relations with non-Jews, and historic upheavals echo in a cast of memorable characters. Many of the stories and monologues feature strong female protagonists, while others shed light on misogyny in the culture of the shtetl. At the border between fiction and reportage, with a gritty underbelly and a deceptive naïveté, Berdichevsky’s stories explore dynamics of wealth, power, and gender in an intimate setting that resonates profoundly with contemporary Jewish life.
Mikhah Yosef Berdichevsky was one of the most important European Jewish intellectuals of his time. He was a well-known translator and editor of Jewish folklore in both Hebrew and German.
James Adam Redfield is assistant professor of Biblical and Talmudic literatures in the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University and visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His edition and translation of From a Distant Relation was the result of his 2016 Yiddish Book Center translation fellowship.
6 x 9, 448 pages, 1 black and white illustrations, 1 maps