- The Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers ed. by Frieda Johles Forman
Edited BY Frieda Johles Forman
Toronto: Exile Editions, 2013, 306 Pages, $19.95
Nearly twenty years have passed since the publication of the first anthology of Yiddish women’s writing in translation, Found Treasures, in 1994. In their introduction to Found Treasures, the editors express a wish “that this not be viewed as the definitive text on Yiddish women writers. It is, rather, a first book,”1 and indeed the Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers answers this call and thereby generates a continuity of women’s writing and of Yiddish translation. This continuity, located at the crux of triple marginalization—of Yiddish, of women, and of Canadian writers—does not simply add a missing piece to an existing puzzle; instead it invites us to rethink the narrative of Yiddish literary history at large.
If Found Treasures sought to remedy the erasure of women’s voices, and of Yiddish voices more broadly, we might question the impetus for this further anthology. Clearly, it is not the case that so much new literature in Yiddish has been written in the past twenty years to merit a new anthology. It is not even the case that the artistic or political choices of prior anthologies are in need of revision, for the Exile Book puts into play similar criteria of selection as those of Found Treasures, as made perhaps most evident by the striking overlap in the list of authors. Of thirteen writers in the Exile Book, ten also appear in Found Treasures. The three who are added highlight the particular angle this new anthology succeeds in putting forth. Sheindl Franzus-Garfinkle, Mirl Erdberg Shatan, and Chayele Grober were all active in the Canadian Jewish cultural sphere. Along with more widely known Yiddish authors also represented—Chava Rosenfarb, Shira Groshman, Ida [End Page 280] Maze, and Rokhl Korn—they form a diverse picture of a vibrant artistic Canadian Yiddish speaking community, from the literary Salon of Ida Maze, to the theatre scene of Chayele Grober, to the natural environs described by Rosenfarb.
Focused through the lens of Canadian Jewish experience, the anthology offers its own maps of Yiddishland, as in Chayele Grober’s “ To the Great Wide World,” which describes her travels with the Habima theatre troupe. It also amply represents the uniquely multilingual reality of Jewish life whereby Yiddish literature can narrate a world taking place in Hebrew and other languages—such as Rikudah Potash describing life in a Yeminite neighborhood of Jerusalem. Finally, one of the most striking pieces, “The Sprite,” by Blume Lempel, connects the historical Yiddish experience of the Second World War with a supernatural folktale drawing on Christian imagery. Lempel is a particularly compelling and enigmatic figure in Yiddish letters, as evidenced also in her short story “Correspondents” (published in Yiddish 1992 and included in Found Treasures). The story interweaves haunting memories of lesbian desire and the horrors of the Khurbn/Shoa. Both “Correspondents” and “The Sprite” recast the most familiar subject of postwar Yiddish literature with surprising themes that shed new light on the Yiddish past and Yiddish literature alike.
Indeed, this anthology as a whole has much to add to current studies of Yiddish. For some authors this anthology is the first publication in translation, as in the case of Sheindl Franzus-Garfinkle and Mirl Erdberg Shatan. Even for Yiddish readers, the anthology is a site of discovery, offering harder-to-find works that the translators collected from the Canadian Yiddish press and published books from Israel, France, Canada, and the US. The anthology also offers a new look at better-known authors. Canadian Yiddish author Ida Maze is doubly brought to life in the anthology, both through her own fictionalized biography, “Denah,” and in Miriam Waddington’s recollections of her Montreal salon. The salon is vividly described as a teaming gathering place for Yiddish writers and a space to mark the deaths of Yiddish (and non-Yiddish) writers. Whereas the female protagonist in “Denah” must tacitly navigate the restrictions on girls’ learning Jewish texts, the young Waddington was embraced by...