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The Zelmenyaners by Moyshe Kulbak {Excerpt}

The Zelmenyaners by Moyshe Kulbak {Excerpt}

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Published by OpenRoadMedia
This is the first complete English-language translation of a classic of Yiddish literature, one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century. The Zelmenyaners describes the travails of a Jewish family in Minsk that is torn asunder by the new Soviet reality. Four generations are depicted in riveting and often uproarious detail as they face the profound changes brought on by the demands of the Soviet regime and its collectivist, radical secularism. The resultant intergenerational showdowns—including disputes over the introduction of electricity, radio, or electric trolley—are rendered with humor, pathos, and a finely controlled satiric pen. Moyshe Kulbak, a contemporary of the Soviet Jewish writer Isaac Babel, picks up where Sholem Aleichem left off a generation before, exploring in this book the transformation of Jewish life.

The Zelmenyaners was written and published in Minsk between 1929 and 1935, the heyday of short-lived cultural renaissance. Arrested in 1937 in the wave of Stalinist repression that hit the Minsk Yiddish writers and cultural activists with particular vehemence, and given a perfunctory show trial, Kulbak was shot on October 29 at the age of 41.

Translator Hillel Halkin is the New York Times bestselling author of Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist Polemic and Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel. He is the acclaimed translator of Sholem Aleichem’s masterpiece, Tevye the Dairyman, which was the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. He has translated the works of S. Y. Agnon and A. B. Yehoshua, and his essays and columns have appeared regularly in Commentary, the New Republic, the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Sun, among others.

Editor Sasha Senderovich holds a PhD from the department of Slavic languages and literatures at Harvard University.
This is the first complete English-language translation of a classic of Yiddish literature, one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century. The Zelmenyaners describes the travails of a Jewish family in Minsk that is torn asunder by the new Soviet reality. Four generations are depicted in riveting and often uproarious detail as they face the profound changes brought on by the demands of the Soviet regime and its collectivist, radical secularism. The resultant intergenerational showdowns—including disputes over the introduction of electricity, radio, or electric trolley—are rendered with humor, pathos, and a finely controlled satiric pen. Moyshe Kulbak, a contemporary of the Soviet Jewish writer Isaac Babel, picks up where Sholem Aleichem left off a generation before, exploring in this book the transformation of Jewish life.

The Zelmenyaners was written and published in Minsk between 1929 and 1935, the heyday of short-lived cultural renaissance. Arrested in 1937 in the wave of Stalinist repression that hit the Minsk Yiddish writers and cultural activists with particular vehemence, and given a perfunctory show trial, Kulbak was shot on October 29 at the age of 41.

Translator Hillel Halkin is the New York Times bestselling author of Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist Polemic and Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel. He is the acclaimed translator of Sholem Aleichem’s masterpiece, Tevye the Dairyman, which was the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. He has translated the works of S. Y. Agnon and A. B. Yehoshua, and his essays and columns have appeared regularly in Commentary, the New Republic, the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Sun, among others.

Editor Sasha Senderovich holds a PhD from the department of Slavic languages and literatures at Harvard University.

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Oct 15, 2013
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10/21/2013

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Moyshe Kulbak
THE ZELMENYANERS 
Chapter 1The Zelmenyaners
That’s Reb Zelmele’s courtyard that you’re looking at. Anancient, two-story brick building with peeling plaster and tworows of low houses filled with little Zelmenyaners. Plus stables,attics, and cellars. It looks more like a narrow street. On summerdays, Reb Zelmele is the first to appear at the crack of dawn inhis long underwear. Sometimes he carries a brick or furiously shovels manure. Where did he come from, Reb Zelmele?The story told in the family is that it was from ‘‘deepRussia.’’ One way or another, he married Bubbe Bashe—who, younger than she is now, began at once to have children.Bubbe Bashe, they say, bore children with recklessabandon, one after another without stopping to count. Eachchild to leave her womb was tall, dark, and broad-shouldered, atrue Zelmenyaner. Reb Zelmele took charge of the boys. Not being a wet nurse, he soon apprenticed them to a trade.One, Folye, was placed with a tanner at the age of ten because of some business with a horse.No one paid much attention when Reb Zelmele’s children began having children of their own. Reinforcements arrived,sons- and daughters-in-law of varying degrees of fertility whosoon crowded out the neighbors. The rooms bulged with black 
 
Moyshe Kulbak
THE ZELMENYANERS 
and rust-colored little Zelmeles. Blonds, mostly girls, wereinfrequent, a thin, pale, barely noticeable veneer. In recent years,however, a growing number of them have turned up. No oneknows where they’ve come from.
♦♦♦
 Zelmenyaners are dark and bony, with broad, low brows. Theirnoses are fleshy, and they have dimples in their cheeks. On the whole they are quiet, sluggish types who look at you sideways,though some of the younger generation can be loud-mouthed. Atheart, however, they too, while putting on worldly airs, remaintimid descendants of Reb Zelmele. Zelmenyaners are patient andeven-tempered. They are as taciturn when happy as when glum. Yet they sometimes glow like hot iron in a special Zelmenyaner way.Over time, Zelmanyaners have developed their ownsmell—a faint odor of musty hay mixed with something else.It’s been known to happen that, in a railroad car packed with Jews all yawning at a frosty morning, someone opens hiseyes and asks a passenger:‘‘Excuse me. You wouldn’t happen to come from N , would you?’’‘‘As a matter of fact, I would.’’ ‘‘You’re not a grandson of Reb Zelmele’s!’’‘‘To tell you the truth, I am.’’The Jew tucks his arms into his sleeves, and the trainrattles on. He has smelled Reb Zelmele’s odor in his sleep without realizing it. No one is consciously aware that theZelmenyaners have their own smell.

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