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A Memoir, Second Edition

David G. Roskies

Published: October 2023
ISBN: 9780814350720
Pages: 280 Size: 6 x 9
Published: October 2023
ISBN: 9780814350737
Pages: 280 Size: EPUB

This lively and irreverent memoir explores the settings where Yiddish—a language of song, rebellion, and eternal longing—has thrived: in the cabaret and café, the kitchen and classroom, the literary salon and mystical commune, the partisan brigade and on pilgrimage to Poland. Inspired by his mother’s recitations of their family saga in his youth, author David Roskies uncovers a tale of survival, intrigue, sacrifice, and divided loyalties that began over 4,000 miles away and two generations ago. A careful reconstruction of the details of his parents’ escape from Europe at the outbreak of the Second World War is juxtaposed with his personal odyssey in the postwar center of Yiddish culture that was Montreal. Roskies embarks on a search for other speakers of his mother tongue with very different stories to tell, which takes him on a journey through the upheavals of 1960s America, the struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the revival of Jewish life here, there, and everywhere. Along the way, he encounters great Yiddish poets and their widows, survivors of the Holocaust, artists, actors, scholars, and teachers. Yiddishlands is essential reading for students of the recent Jewish past and the living Yiddish present.

David G. Roskies is professor emeritus of Yiddish literature and culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. A cofounder of Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, he also served as editor in chief of the New Yiddish Library. He received the Silver Medal for Contributions to Yiddish Scholarship from the University of Rome in 1997 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. His extensive and prolific research and publications span the disciplines of Yiddish and Jewish literature, Holocaust literature, and Jewish cultural history.

A panoramic history of Yiddish culture as seen through the life and career of a son whose family embodied its trajectory, Yiddishlands is both an intimate memoir and scholarship of the highest order. In this welcome new edition of his classic book, the foremost historian of modern Jewish literatures and languages has preserved the treasures of the past in his own life story.

– Eric J. Sundquist, editor of Writing in Witness: A Holocaust Reader

David G. Roskies’s marvelous Yiddishlands is at once rollicking and haunting, profoundly sad as well as uplifting. This idiosyncratic Yiddish Bildungsroman moves from Montreal to Jerusalem to Somerville to New York but is always circling around Roskies’s mother’s (largely fictive) Vilna. Roskies is a master storyteller, and his readers will delight in this memoir.

– Michael Stanislawski, Nathan J. Miller Professor of Jewish History, Columbia University

David Roskies’s sparkling memoir of growing up in the cauldron of an intense Yiddish world in the 1950s and 1960s is a masterpiece of storytelling. The tale stretches from his mother’s salon in Montreal back to Vilna and forward to New York and Israel. It encompasses the tragedy of the Shoah, the beauty and humor of the Yiddish arts, and the wit of the Jews who survived against all odds. It is essential reading for all who want to encounter the essence of Jewish life.

– Susanne Klingenstein, Yiddish literary historian, Harvard University

David G. Roskies’s passionate narrative of a brilliant family is more than a memoir of rupture and renewal—it is a history of a civilization, its languages, its lost cities, its living songs.

– Cynthia Ozick, recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

David Roskies is the only one of his generation who can map the Yiddish literary world after the war with personal stories, vivid portraits of the key players, and extraordinary acumen and wit. Yiddishlands is a tour de force.

– Hana Wirth-Nesher, founding director of the Goldreich Family Institute for Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Tel Aviv University

Among the greatest strengths of Yiddishlands is Roskies’s skill in recapturing not only his mother’s stories but also the rich nuance and cadence with which she told them.

– Montreal Gazette

Yiddishlands brings to life the major debates, struggles, and triumphs of the modern Yiddish experience and provides readers with portraits of its great writers, cultural leaders, and educators.

– Shofar

Yiddishlands is a richly transcendent piece of writing that salvages many episodes of personal, family, and social history, not only in the Old Country but in modern Montreal and numerous other places.

– Jewish News of Northern California

Yiddishlands is a thoughtful reflection on a complicated epoch through which the Jews have passed. The richness of the memoir and the hopeful tone of the writing ultimately belie the author’s own contention ‘that everything of importance happened before I was born.’

– Jerusalem Report

Yiddishlands drops you directly into the uniqueness of a world that was destroyed and then into the multitude of attempts within one family to reconstruct it—not through ‘history’ but through the vivid and unforgettable voices of those who lived it, in a whirlwind of conversation, song, and storytelling that conjures up a city in multiple reincarnations. It’s a virtuoso performance that resurrects the dead.

– Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present