Behind the Fence is a modern story wherein reality and symbol are interwoven. The plot is itself stereotypical: Romeo and Juliet transposed to a provincial Russian town. The lovers not only are the children of rival families but belong to different religious and social classes: the son of a small-scale Jewish lumber merchant and a Christian foundling oppressed by a cruel and grim Russian peasant woman.
But beyond this stock plot is an ingenious story, an educational novella. Noah, the protagonist, evolves from childhood to adolescence and finally to maturity. In contrast, Marinka is a flat character. She remains the passive, beautiful girl craving for a handful of love and tormented by a hardened elderly peasant.
The author is at home in Noah's world. (The name Noah is composed of the initials of his own two personal names Ḥayyim Nahman -- reversed to Noah).1
Noah, the child and the adolescent, is not totally oblivious to the realities of his Jewish milieu and the wide cultural gap that separates the two lovers. He knows that the fruit trees, the fruit, and the vegetables of Marinka's world are alien to the Jewish world of lumberyards piled with dead wood of onceflourishing trees, or the market stalls peddling plucked fruit and vegetables. Marinka, the child of love, is unencumbered by the stern taboos of the Jewish ethic. The reactions of the two chil-____________________