In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian-Jewish Prose (1860-1940)

In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian-Jewish Prose (1860-1940)

In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian-Jewish Prose (1860-1940)

In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian-Jewish Prose (1860-1940)

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to give an overview of Jewish literature written in Russian in the period between 1860 and 1940, more precisely of prose fiction as a part of that body of literature, and as such, the first comprehensive monograph ever on this particular topic. The unsettled issue of the definition of Russian-Jewish literature, a matter of controversy to this day, will be discussed in detail in the first chapter. It is no exaggeration to say that the works to be treated in the following pages are practically unknown, as are their authors. While getting ready to write this book, I had to read scores of pieces of fiction as well as essays available only on microfilm, most of them never published since their original appearance in the 19 or early 20 century. The historic cataclysms suffered by Russia wrought enormous damage and caused irreparable losses not only in human life, but also where books and documents were concerned. I came across a book by Osip Rabinovich published in 1881 whose pages I was the first to cut when I found it in a library in Switzerland.

My getting engaged in the study of Russian-Jewish works written between 1860 and 1940 was the logical outcome of a monograph I wrote on Isaac Babel in 1985 (which, however, could be published only in 1992). I discovered the extent of the influence of earlier Russian-Jewish authors on Babel's oeuvre after my monograph had been completed. This was followed by the recognition that what I was looking at was not simply a couple of writers but an entire process. The next thing I realized was that the topic was all but unresearched. Even “sporadic investigation” would have been hard to speak of, let alone a systematic study.

Thus the goal I set myself was to provide a view of that process, the stream of Russian-Jewish literature as a phenomenon of literary history, and also to introduce authors representative of the whole of this trend as well as its diversity. I intend to outline these eighty years of Russian-Jewish . . .

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