3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2008
This, like `Wicked', is a book I've read three times from beginning to end, and dipped into more than that. It's also a book I cannot recommend highly enough! It's a true story that reads like a novel at times, so packed is it with twists and turns, ups and downs. It's the story of how Aaron & chums set about rescuing all the Yiddish books in America sometime in the early 80's when most of the Yiddish speaking settlers had settled and produced children and those children had produced children who, while adhering to the religion of the grandparents grew up speaking English. A lot of the original Yiddish speakers in America had fled from Europe in the wake of Hitler and his cronies and Yiddish for them wasn't just a language it was the last link to a way of life that had perished in the death camps. They put the word out that they're collecting Yiddish books, despite being constantly told by modern American Jews that Yiddish is dead, that it belongs to the past, and they have a list of places to go and collect and it's on this first day that he realises it's not going to be as simple as packing boxes into the back of a truck because the old people he visits first fuss over and feed him - forcing cup after cup of tea down his throat too - and then, when he is fit to bursting - and only then - will they begin passing him the books. But that's not the end of it, no. Just the beginning in fact. Because with each book comes a story. A story of where and when the book was bought and sometimes how they went without food to buy the books. They were handing over much more than books, they were handing over the stories of their lives...I've cried so many times reading this book, but not with despair. It's a book that gives me hope and it's also interesting to see a view of Jewishness that is so often forgotten in this country I think, where we equate being a Jew with the state of Israel and all the naughty things it's doing in Palestine. Things are never that cut and dried and blaming a country for the actions of its government or a few right wing nutters is so easy to do. My favourite story in the whole book concerns a trip to see a Mr. Levine who has a pile of books out the back of his store. A big pile, and they worriedly ask him how much? "Mr. Levine looked offended. `Oh, no, you don't understand. We don't sell Yiddish books here. These books belonged to my father, alev hasholem (may he rest in peace). My father loved Yiddish, he loved to read Yiddish books. When he died I brought his library down here for safekeeping. I always knew that someday someone would come for it, and it looks like you're finally here. If you young people are interested in Yiddish, then the books are yours. There's no charge.'" And he even drove them the twelve blocks to their truck! But it's not all joy joy joy. There's disappointments too. a whole attic of books that the Hassidic owner won't let them have because he views Yiddish as corrupting, as its mainly novels and not the study of the Torah - they even get slagged off for by a group of them while they're schlepping books out of a basement. There's some really funny tales about various groups within the Yiddish community not speaking to other groups and a fascinating insight into how they lived their ideals in the new country - so many of them were ardent Socialists and set up communes and collective farms! The original draft of the Russian workers, who later became the Bolsheviks, was in Russian and Yiddish! But what was the urgency? Well, Yiddish books, and the language they used, were a record of two thousand years of Jewish exile, something the burgeoning state of Israel cared nothing for as they replaced all the old Yiddish speakers in America in 1967. They came back after summer break and all the old European teachers had been replaced - Jewish history started Abraham and Moses and carried on to the fall of Jerusalem - 135 C.E. - if they were lucky - up to founding modern Israeli state - the new teachers spoke fluent Hebrew and had no idea of European Jewish tradition..."What happened during the those intervening centuries - how Jews ended up in Europe: where my own grandparents came from: even what happened during the Holocaust - these were stories never told." But the overall picture is one of hope, of struggling against insurmountable odds and somehow winning! I'll leave you now with my favourite quote, and the one that has given me the most comfort..."'It says in Perek (a two-thousand year old Hebrew text): `Loy alekho hamelokhe ligmor...It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.'"
Reader! I cannot recommend this book enough! Read it if for no other reason than to please me and be reminded that there is really some reason for going on and that the whole world is not motivated by selfishness and that there is a point to going on ... hope is not lost...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2008
Part history, part social history, part travelogue, this is such a fascinating book that the minute I read the last sentence I immediiately turned to the front page and started again. Aaron Lansky got a Macarthur "Genius grant"; in a better world he would also have been awarded a Nobel Prize for rescuing a whole corpus of literature. The story of the dictionary of politics which escaped the attentions of the secret police is as thrilling as any Tom Clancy - and better written. Anyone who loves reading should read this book - it is completely absorbing.
on 3 April 2012
Once you open this book, you will not be able to put it down till you have finished reading. A story with everything, drama, suspense, tradegy, full of surprises, humour and laughs. A group of enthusiastic, energetic but penniless students set out to save a treasury of abandonded and unwanted Yiddish books - and they do. Written with verve, humour, sympathy the story carries you along like a tide to its optimistic and satisfying ending.