The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son

The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son

SHOLEM ALEICHEM
TRANSLATED AND WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HILLEL HALKIN
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npb64
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  • Book Info
    The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son
    Book Description:

    This volume presents an outstanding new translation of two favorite comic novels by the preeminent Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916).The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndlportrays a tumultuous marriage through letters exchanged between the title character, an itinerant bumbler seeking his fortune in the cities of Russia before departing alone for the New World, and his scolding wife, who becomes increasingly fearful, jealous, and mystified.Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Sonis the first-person narrative of a mischievous and keenly observant boy who emigrates with his family from Russia to America. The final third of the story takes place in New York, making this Sholem Aleichem's only major work to be set in the United States.Motl and Menakhem-Mendl are in one sense opposites--the one a clear-eyed child and the other a pathetically deluded adult. Yet both are ideal conveyors of the comic disparity of perception on which humor depends. If Motl sees more than do others around him, Menakhem-Mendl has an almost infinite capacity for seeing less. Sholem Aleichem endows each character with an individual comic voice to tell in his own way the story of the collapse of traditional Jewish life in modern industrial society as well as the journey to America, where a new chapter of Jewish history begins. This volume includes a biographical and critical introduction as well as a useful glossary for English-language readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12863-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xxx)
    Hillel Halkin

    Taken together, Sholem Aleichem’s three great semicomic works,Tevye the Dairyman, The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl, andMotl, the Cantor’s Son, might be said to compose a right triangle. The sides of the right angle are formed byTevyeandMenakhem-Mendl, which meet each other squarely.Motljoins the two obliquely. The trio bounds Sholem Aleichem’s fictional world.

    Each moves along a geographical line. Tevye shuttles back and forth from his native village of “Boiberik” to the nearby Ukrainian capital of Kiev, called “Yehupetz” by Sholem Aleichem. Boiberik is even closer to “Kasrilevke,” the town in which Motl grows...

  4. The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl
    • Londons: The Odessa Exchange
      (pp. 3-18)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, praise God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen!

      Secondly, words fail me in describing the grandeur and beauty of the city of Odessa, the fine character of its inhabitants, and the wonderful opportunities that exist here. Just imagine: I take my walking stick and venture out on Greek Street, as the place where Jews do business is called, and there are twenty thousand different things to deal...

    • Stocks & Bonds: The Yehupetz Exchange
      (pp. 19-37)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, thank God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen.

      Secondly, I have left Odessa for Yehupetz (a fine town, I declare) and am no longer dealing in perishables— that is, in Londons. I am at present, praise God, a bonified investor in stocks & bonds. But what brought me, you may ask, to Yehupetz? That, my dear wife, is a long story that I’ll tell you once I...

    • Millions: Traders, Agents, and Speculators
      (pp. 38-71)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, praise God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen.

      Secondly, I’m through with investing. You can have it! It’s no occupation for a Jew. It’s made me old and gray before my time. I could write a book on all I’ve been through. Yehupetz is in ruins. The market has gone bust. There isn’t a ray of hope. The carnage, I’m sorry to say, is worse than it...

    • An Honorable Profession: Menakhem-Mendl Becomes a Writer
      (pp. 72-82)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, praise God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen.

      Secondly, I’ve had it with business: no more Exchange, no more deals, no more Semadenni’s. They’re all a sneaking, thieving swindle! I have a brand-new profession, a much finer and more respectable one. I’m happy to say I’ve become a writer. In fact, I’m writing already.

      How, you ask, do I come by literature? It seems I was born...

    • It’s No Go: Menakhem-Mendl the Matchmaker
      (pp. 83-95)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, praise God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen.

      Secondly, it’s no go. The harder I try, the less it works out. As soon as I received the rubles you sent, I paid my bill at the boarding house and packed my things. What can I tell you? I was already on my way to Khvostov, where I planned to change for Kasrilevke.

      But God is greater than...

    • Always a Loser: Menakhem-Mendl the Insurance Agent
      (pp. 96-102)

      To my wise, esteemed, & virtuous wife Sheyne-Sheyndl, may you have a long life!

      Firstly, rest assured that I am, praise God, in the best of health. God grant that we hear from each other only good and pleasing news, amen.

      Secondly, my dear wife, I’m on the run. I’ve had another setback—a severe one. I can thank my lucky stars I’m not in jail. The devil knows what I might have gotten: forced labor or even Siberia. And yet I’m no guiltier than you are. But it’s as your mother says: once a loser, always a loser ....

  5. Motl, the Cantor’s Son
    • Part One
      (pp. 105-236)

      I’ll bet you anything no one felt as good in the warm, bright days after Passover as me and the neighbors’ calf Menye. By me I mean Motl, Peysi the cantor’s son. Menye was the name I gave the calf.

      Together we basked in the first rays of the sun, which only warmed up after Passover. Together we sniffed the new blades of green grass kicking off their blanket of snow. Together we sprang from our own dark holes to welcome each sweet, bright spring day—me, Motl, from a cold, wet house that smelled of sourdough and medicine, and...

    • Part Two
      (pp. 237-318)

      Congratulations, we’re in America!

      That’s what they tell us, anyway. No one has seen America yet because we’re still on Ella’s Island. Why did they name it for Ella? “Because Ella had no fella,” Pinye says. Pinye can’t resist a rhyme.

      Pinye is peeved at Ella’s Island for keeping us poor immigrants here while the rich ones go ashore. That’s something you would expect from a thieving Russky, he says, not from a free country like America. In America rich and poor are supposed to be equal. Pinye starts spouting words: “Columbus . . . Shakespeare . . . Buckle...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 319-326)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-327)