Winner of the Modern Language Association’s Fania & Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies (2018)
Translators Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub on encountering Blume Lempel’s stories: "When we began reading and translating, we didn’t know we were going to find a mother drawn into an incestuous relationship with her blind son. We didn’t know we’d meet a young woman lying on the table at an abortion clinic. We didn’t know we’d meet a middle-aged woman full of erotic imaginings as she readies herself for a blind date. Buried in this forgotten Yiddish-language material, we found modernist stories and modernist story-telling techniques imagine reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the conversational touch of Grace Paley."
Lempel (1907-1999) was one of a small number of writers in the United States who wrote in Yiddish into the 1990s. Though many of her stories opened a window on the Old World and the Holocaust, she did not confine herself to these landscapes or themes. She often wrote about the margins of society, and about subjects considered untouchable. her prize-winning fiction is remarkable for its psychological acuity, its unflinching examination of erotic themes and gender relations, and its technical virtuosity. Mirroring the dislocation of mostly women protagonists, her stories move between present and past, Old World and New, dream and reality.
While many of her stories opened a window on the Old World and the Holocaust, she also wrote about the margins of society, about subjects considered untouchable, among them abortion, prostitution, women's erotic imaginings, and even incest. She illuminated the inner lives of her charactersmostly women. Her storylines migrate between past and present, Old World and New, dream and reality, modern-day New York and prewar Poland, bedtime story and passionate romance, and old-age dementia and girlhood dreams.
Immigrating to New York when Hitler rose to power, Blume Lempel began publishing her short stories in 1945. By the 1970s her work had become known throughout the Yiddish literary world. When she died in 1999, the Yiddish paper Forverts wrote: "Yiddish literature has lost one of its most remarkable women writers."
A former columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, a former speechwriter in the Clinton Administration, Ellen Cassedy is the author of “We are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust." Her work has appeared in Hadassah, The Jewish Daily Forward, the Huffington Post, Lilith, and many other fine journals.
Born and raised in Philadelphia and Baltimore, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Temple University. He received an M.A. in history from Emory University and an M.L.S. from Queens College, CUNY.The author of four books of poetry,he was honored as one of NYC’s best Jewish artists.
"Blume Lempel's short story collection is a splendid surprise and a significant revivification of a brilliantly robust Yiddish-American writer." —Cynthia Ozick
"These stories are a remarkable achievement. . . . She [writes] with modernist acuity...With shrewdness, wit, and lyricism, Lempel gives voice to the women, the aging, the ill, and others who, from the margins of modern society, have had trouble making themselves heard." —Kirkus Reviews
"Stunning . . . a brilliant, talented writer with one foot in the prewar world in Europe and the other in postwar America. . . . Highly recommended for all collections of Jewish literature." —Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
"Richly evocative, filled with pleasure and pain, and powerfully human and humane." —The Forward
"An eclectic, original and inventive collection." —Lilith magazine
"These are stories that deserve a cherished place in the canon of Jewish literature." —Foreword Reviews
"These spare, skillful tales are both introspective and illuminating." —Philip K. Jason in the Washington Independent Review of Books
"Rescuing a fine writer from oblivion." —Howard Freedman, Jweekly.com
"Strange, muscled, riven with grief, Blume Lempel's short stories are for the ages." —C.M. Mayo
"An unusual and important voice." —Amos Lassen
"Blume Lempel conducts a conversation across multiple time zones and spheres . . . a heroic effort to create and sustain a choir of voices in Yiddish, her beloved and endangered language." —David G. Roskies, author of Yiddishlands: A Memoir
"A wonderfully original and controversial writer. . . . Blume Lempel left a remarkable legacy that this beautifully translated volume finally makes accessible to a wider audience." —Anita Norich, author of Writing in Tongues: Translating Yiddish in the 20th Century
"The thematic and stylistic scope of Blume Lempel's writing, as demonstrated admirably by Cassedy and Taub's translations, is wide and richly integrated." —Jeffrey Shandler, author of Adventures in Yiddishland: Post-Vernacular Language and Culture
"This new translation of Blume Lempel's stories reanimates the melody of Yiddish, the mame-loshen. . . . As one of her characters puts it: 'No world language is comparable to Yiddish, to the Yiddish sigh, the Yiddish sense of humor.'" —Victoria Aarons, author of What Happened to Abraham?
One of Book Riot's 100 Must-Read Books about Women and Religion.
Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories
Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub