Interpretations of Esther (Hinde) Kreitman’s work have focused most attention on its autobiographical dimension, in particular her troubled life as a woman writer in the shadow of the two Singer brothers. This article argues that some of the assumptions embedded in these autobiographical interpretations are in need of qualification in view of the other-directed dynamic of Yiddish autobiography, the scarcity of reliable sources on Kreitman’s life, her relation to Yiddish literary traditions, and the impact of translations. Through an extended close reading of Kreitman’s second novel Brilyantn (1944), the article shows how the author functionalized elements taken from her own life story (such as mental instability) to address broader concerns pertaining to Jewish transit communities in Western Europe (in particular the diamond Jews in Antwerp and London) around the time of the First World War. In Brilyantn, madness is not merely an individual aberration but first and foremost a marker of the quasi-liminal condition of Jews in transit, whose in-between position is further underscored by the linguistic hybridity of their speech. By mixing her Yiddish prose with Flemish, French, German, and English words and phrases, Kreitman brings to life the complex human relations underpinning the diamond trade, where social standing and business success are predicated on linguistically defined identities.


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pp. 95-117
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