"Kanovich meticulously renders each of the townspeople, taking care to avoid framing them as quaint caricatures, while the haunting prose adds a bewitching sheen of unreality. Admirers of I.B. Singer should take a look."—Publishers Weekly
"Kanovich saved us, ‘Jews of silence,’ from forgetting our very selves during the most difficult times of antisemitism and dictatorship. The Tears and Prayers of Fools became at once a biblical parable for our time and a Chagall painting restored to life in words—the eternal flight of a free human above a tragic age."—Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian journalist and writer
"‘Shtetl noir’ meets Hasidic legend in this deeply philosophical work. In a word, this novel is the work of an exceptional writer with a unique voice."—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, University Professor Emerita, New York University
"When The Tears and Prayers of Fools came out in Russian in Vilnius in 1983, I was fortunate to be able to purchase a copy of this novel in Lithuania (back then, Kanovich’s books were not sold in Moscow) and was completely overwhelmed by its stylistic originality, richness of detail, and philosophical depth."—Mikhail Krutikov, University of Michigan
This extraordinary novel is part of Grigory Kanovich’s “Litvak saga,” his tribute to Jewish life before the Holocaust. Set in a small Lithuanian town in the late nineteenth century, the story begins with the arrival of a stranger who sets everyone on edge and seems to know their secrets. Is he a messenger from God, a long-lost son, a saint, or a madman? As the stranger in the velvet yarmulke makes his rounds, we meet an unforgettable cast of characters—Rabbi Uri, the aged rabbi; Itsik Magid, the strapping young woodcutter; Golda, the resourceful widow; Markus Fradkin, the wealthy timber merchant, and his beautiful daughter Zelda; Yeshua Mandel, the tavern keeper, his troubled son Simeon, and Morta, their devoted servant girl. A work of realism as well as a parable, Kanovich’s novel illuminates the most intimate fears, dreams, and longings of the shtetl’s inhabitants.
Map of the Pale of Settlement
A Note on History and Transliteration
Acknowledgments, Dmitri Kanovich
The Tears and Prayers of Fools
List of Characters
Grigory Kanovich (1929–2023) was an internationally acclaimed Lithuanian-born Jewish writer. He was the author of ten novels translated into fourteen languages, including Devilspel and Shtetl Love Song. His play, “Smile Upon Us, Lord,” toured in the US, Canada, Europe, and Israel. The recipient of numerous awards, he was awarded the Lithuanian National Prize in Art and Culture in 2014. Settling in Israel in 1993, he was a member of PEN International both in Israel and Russia.
Mary Ann Szporluk is an editor and a translator of Russian literature whose translations include Escape Hatch: Two Novellas by Vladimir Makanin and The Death of a Poet: The Last Days of Marina Tsvetaeva by Irma Kudrova.
Ken Frieden, the B. G. Rudolph Professor of Judaic Studies at Syracuse University, has published numerous books and essays on Yiddish and Hebrew literature.
6 x 9, 320 pages, 3 black and white illustrations, 1 maps