Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tevye's Daughters

Tevye and his Seven Daughters
© 1894 Sholom Aleichem
300 pages

Consider the question: is it possible to enjoy a book while having music from a movie it inspired playing incessantly in your head every time a page is turned? Well, more or less. This is has been my experience with Tevye's Daughters, a collection of short stories by Sholom Aleichem (aleichem shalom!), the basis of Fiddler on the Roof.    The stories are not all part of the same narrative; those told by Tevye the Dairyman,  Fiddler's star, comprise only a fraction of the book. The rest have other narrators, most anonymous, but all Jews living in Tsarist Russia.  There is humor here, some of it dark. Most of the entertainment value is derived from the narrators' collective gift of gab. In one, "The Man from Buenos Aires" the story consists of a businessman rambling on about his financial prowess (and his modesty). Page after page this goes on until our narrator is about to disembark when he finally asks: what is it it you do? The businessman's reply is "Well, I don't sell prayer books, that's for sure!".  There's no conventional drama-conflict-resolution scheme to these stories, and the point of quite a few slipped me entirely. The writing, though, just drew me in, and I suppose it was helped by the Russian setting, which is completely new to me. Tevye is utterly lovable, though being a man of the musical made me fond of him from the start.  Like the movie-musical,  Tevye's Daughters drifts toward the sad, ending with the expulsion of the Jews from Russia. There is a bright light at the end, however, when Tevye is restored to one of his daughters. Altogether the stories were charming enough that I'm glad I took a chance on ordering through interlibrary loan.

Originally written in Yiddish, this translation retained enough to require a glossary in the back.


  1. This is another example, based on my reading of your review, of a book that is better than the movie. These tales remind me of similar folk-like stories of Malgudi in India by the esteemed writer, R. K. Narayan.

  2. Thank you for that suggestion -- India is an area that I've been meaning to make a literary visit to.

  3. Thank you for that suggestion -- India is an area that I've been meaning to make a literary visit to.


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