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  • Between Mountains
  • Shira Gorshman
    Introduced and translated from Yiddish by Faith Jones

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Shira Gorshman was born in Krok, Lithuania, in 1906. She left home at 14 and became active in left-wing Zionist circles. She married very soon thereafter and had her first daughter when she was 16. A few years later she moved with her husband and children to Palestine to participate in an idealistic group called G'dud ha-Avodah [Labour Battalion] which served as a mobile heavy labour pool for such activites as road building. The members of this group pooled all income and lived communally. During an internal split in the group, Gorshman sided with the Communist-inclined branch. This entire sub-group then moved to Ukraine to start a collective farm called Voya Nova [New Way]. It was while working on this farm in 1930 that Gorshman, by then a divorced single mother, met the painter Mendl Gorshman when he visited from Moscow [the drawing here is by him]. She soon married him and returned with him to Moscow, where she slowly took up writing. It does not appear that her husband was particularly supportive of this endeavor; and with her three children all still young, she did not have much time to write. However, her work was published in all the major Yiddish periodicals of the time, and her first book came [End Page 129] out in 1948. From that time until she left the Soviet Union, she published regularly and was translated into Russian. In 1990 she moved to Israel, where she continued to write and republished many of her older stories. She died in 2001. In all, she published nine books in Yiddish; two were translated into Russian, and two into Hebrew.

Gorshman's stories are almost prescient in their interest in women's rights, although not all her work is as explictly concerned with them as the story translated here. Like many of her very short stories, "Between Mountains" involves an unnamed narrator in contact with another person for a brief time. This format is probably a result of the limited time Gorshman had to write; but she used it to create atmospheric miniatures that illuminate a single dynamic.

From the first time I read this story several years ago I knew I wanted to translate it. I was finally moved to do so for this issue of Bridges because the story itself circles around translation and translatability. It is set in an unspecified Central Asian location that was then part of the Soviet Union. Mayna, the narrator's new acquaintance, is a member of a linguistic minority and struggles to make herself understood in Russian. It isn't until the last few sentences that we understand what she desperately wants to tell the narrator. It is not clear what draws Mayna to the narrator, but the linguistic and cultural gulf between them may be in this case an opening, a safe distance into which what has been silenced can be spoken.

There were a surprising number of translation issues for a text so short. I needed to retain Mayna's broken Russian, but I was determined not to infantalize her. The story includes two words from Mayna's Turkic language which would not be known to Gorshman's Yiddish readers: I chose to retain one so that readers would catch the fleeting glimpse of Mayna's culture, her other world, in which she spoke fluently. But I didn't want to make a fetish of foreignness: for ease of understanding, I glossed the other word invisibly within the text. There was also a word I could not find in the dictionaries. After querying many people, and receiving an interesting variety of guesses, the linguist Paul Glasser found it for me in an article on the Lithuanian dialect of Yiddish.


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To date there are only three other Gorshman stories available in English. There is one story in each of the anthologies Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars and Found Treasures; and one has been blogged at http://debbienathan.com/i-feel-sorry-for-these-men...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9552
Print ISSN
1046-8358
Pages
pp. 129-132
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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