Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature: An Anthology

Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature: An Anthology


Edited by Maxim D. Shrayer

Series: Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe and Their Legacy
ISBN: 9781618117922 (paper)
Pages: 1036 pp.
Publication Date: November 2018

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Edited by Maxim D. Shrayer, a leading specialist in Russia’s Jewish culture, this definitive anthology of major nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, nonfiction and poetry by eighty Jewish-Russian writers explores both timeless themes and specific tribulations of a people’s history. A living record of the rich and vibrant legacy of Russia’s Jews, this reader-friendly and comprehensive anthology features original English translations. In its selection and presentation, the anthology tilts in favor of human interest and readability. It is organized both chronologically and topically (e.g. “Seething Times: 1860s-1880s”; “Revolution and Emigration: 1920s-1930s”; “Late Soviet Empire and Collapse: 1960s-1990s”). A comprehensive headnote introduces each section. Individual selections have short essays containing information about the authors and the works that are relevant to the topic. The editor’s opening essay introduces the topic and relevant contexts at the beginning of the volume; the overview by the leading historian of Russian Jewry John D. Klier appears the end of the volume. Over 500,000 Russian-speaking Jews presently live in America and about 1 million in Israel, while only about 170,000 Jews remain in Russia. The great outflux of Jews from the former USSR and the post-Soviet states has changed the cultural habitat of world Jewry. A formidable force and a new Jewish Diaspora, Russian Jews are transforming the texture of daily life in the US and Canada, and Israel. A living memory, a space of survival and a record of success, Voice of Jewish-Russian Literature ensures the preservation and accessibility of the rich legacy of Russian-speaking Jews.

Maxim D. Shrayer, a bilingual author, scholar and translator, is Professor of Russian, English, and Jewish Studies at Boston College and Director of the Project on Russian & Eurasian Jewry at Harvard’s Davis Center. Born in Moscow in 1967 to a writer’s family, Shrayer emigrated to the United States in 1987. He has authored and edited fifteen books in English and Russian, among them the internationally acclaimed memoirs Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story and Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration, the story collection Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, and the Holocaust study I Saw It: Ilya Selvinsky and the Legacy of Bearing Witness to the Shoah, and the travelogue With or Without You: The Prospect for Jews in Today’s Russia. Shrayer is the recipient of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award and a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship. Visit Shrayer’s website at www.shrayer.com.


This is an enlightening, well-edited anthology, a partial answer to an eternally vexed question: what does it mean to be a writer with talent and Jewish blood in Russia? A kind of triple consciousness emerges from the biographies and works included. The surprise is that the problem of identity for Jewish writers began so early and persisted so long, whether under tsar or commissar or gangster capitalism. The attitudes of these writers of two centuries are varied and complex, but their experiences of anti-Semitism are the same. A valuable contribution to the study of Russian literature.
— Ellendea Proffer Teasley, MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of Ardis Publishers
Jewish literature is an essential element of the Russian and Ukrainian historical experience. This meticulously assembled rich collection of nineteenth- through twentieth-century works, some freshly translated, is sure to appeal to historians and literary scholars alike. Biographical portraits, an historical essay, and an extensive bibliography make this rich literary oeuvre accessible to graduate and undergraduate students. For scholars of Jewish and Russian literature, Voices of Jewish Russian Literature is an indispensable vademecum.
— Patricia Herlihy, Professor Emerita of History, Brown University and author of Odessa: A History, 1794-1914
Stunning work, Maxim D. Shrayer’s Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature brings center stage the rich contribution of Jewish-Russian writers. Selections in all genres of writing from writers such as Mandelstam, Shklovsky, Babel and Ehrenburg focus on Jewish issues and happenings directly or indirectly. Equally stunning is the way Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature—through its selection and network of superb commentary—provides the groundwork for an exploration of the esthetic and psychological ambiguities of adaptation that from time immemorial have marked the Jewish response to non-Jewish languages and cultures. The inspiration, design and intellectual crafting of the stellar scholar and author, Maxim D. Shrayer, Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature is not to be missed by anyone interested in the meeting of the Jewish and Russian spirit.
— Robert Louis Jackson, B.E. Bensinger Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University and author of Dialogues with Dostoevsky
This anthology seems to be the finishing tape of the two-hundred-year history of Jewish-Russian literature, which at the turn of the 20th century changes its basic properties and habitat, becoming Russian-Israeli, Russian-American, and so forth. Moving beyond all essentialist and cultural definitions, Maxim D. Shrayer points to the elusive quality that makes this literature specifically Jewish and this anthology required reading for any Russianist. The quality Shrayer identifies lies in the truth this literature tells about Jewish history and life—the truth which a religious Jew may not look for and a non-Jew may not see.
— Roman Katsman, Professor of Literature of the Jewish People, Bar Ilan University and of author of Nostalgia for a Foreign Land: Studies in Russian-Language Literature in Israel
With the publication of this critical literary anthology, Maxim D. Shrayer seeks to transparently and inclusively represent traditional and experimental movements, thematic trends, many genres and forms of prose and poetry—leading to a broad anatomy of two centuries of the Jewish-Russian literary heritage. There is no living scholar better-equipped to examine the legacy of Jewish-Russian literature than Shrayer. His creative and editorial work in this field has both sustained and re-vivified its legacy for future generations. His reconstruction of the canon through the publication of the anthology includes a distinctly defined concept of a Jewish poetics born at the intersection of the author’s identity and aesthetics—a most useful addition to ongoing conversations about Jewish-hyphenate literary identity more generally. Readers will be astounded by the depth and breadth of the contributions, including the editor’s notes, and general, editorial, and author introductions. It must be said that while the content is presented in a most inviting state for all readers, teachers will find within the text productive pedagogical tools to knowledgeably teach the literature and its legacy. It offers a full measure of a political- ideological and cultural-linguistic poetics that will contribute a thousandfold to our understanding of the Jewish-Russian literary legacy.
— Holli Levitsky, Professor of English and Director of Jewish Studies Program, Loyola Marymount University and editor of Literature of Exile and Displacement
This anthology is a major contribution to our understanding of key role played by Russian Jews in both Russian and Jewish culture. It is absolutely indispensable for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
— Samuel D Kassow, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, Trinity College and author of The Distinctive Life of East European Jewry

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration, Spelling of Names, and Dates
Note on How to Use This Book

General Introduction: The Legacy of Jewish-Russian Literature, by Maxim D. Shrayer

Early Voices: 1800s-1850s
Editor’s Introduction
Leiba Nevakhovich (1776-1831) from Lament of the Daughter of Judah (1803)
Leon Mandelstam (1819-1889) “The People” (1840)
Ruvim Kulisher (1828-1896) From An Answer to the Slav (1849; pub. 1911)
Osip Rabinovich (1817-1869) From The Penal Recruit (1859)

Seething Times: 1860s-1880s
Editor’s Introduction
Lev Levanda (1835-1888) From Seething Times (1860s; pub. 1871-73)
Grigory Bogrov (1825-1885) “Childhood Sufferings” from Notes of a Jew (1863; pub. 1871-73)
Rakhel Khin (1861-1928) From The Misfit (1881)
Semyon Nadson (1862-1887) From “The Woman” (1883) 
    “I grew up shunning you, O most degraded nation…” (1885)

On the Eve: 1890s-1910s
Editor’s Introduction
Ben-Ami (1854–1932) Preface to Collected Stories and Sketches (1898)
David Aizman (1869-1922) “The Countrymen” (1902)
Semyon Yushkevich (1868-1927) From The Jews (1903)
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940) “In Memory of Herzl” (1904)
Sasha Cherny (1880-1932) “Judeophobes” (1909)
S. An-sky (1863-1920) “The Book” (1910)
Samuil Marshak (1887-1964) “Palestine” (1916)
Sofia Parnok (1885-1933) “My anguish does the Lord not heed…” (1913-22)
   “Hagar” (1913-22)
   “Not for safekeeping for awhile…” (1913-22)
Leonid Kannegiser (1896-1918) “A Jewish Wedding” (1916)
   “Regimental Inspection” (1917)

Revolution and Emigration: 1920s-1930s
Editor’s Introduction
Veniamin Kaverin (1902-1989) “Shields (and Candles)” (1922)
Lev Lunts (1901-1924) “Native Land” (1922)
Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939)“Not my mother, but a Tula peasant woman…” (1917; 1922)
   “In Moscow I was born. I never…” (1923)
Andrey Sobol (1888-1926) “The Count” (1922-23)
Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) “The Teacher's Prophecy Concerning the Destinies of the Tribe of Judah” from The Extraordinary Adventures of Julio Jurenito and His Disciples (1922)
Viktor Shklovsky (1893-1984) From Zoo, or Letters Not about Love (1923)
Matvey Royzman (1896-1973) “Kol Nidrei” (1923)
Mark Aldanov (1886-1957) “The Assassination of Uritsky” (1923)
Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) “Judaic Chaos” from Noise of Time (1925)
   “One Alexander Herzovich…” (1931)
   “Say, desert geometer, shaper…” (1933)
Evgeny Shklyar (1894-1942) “Where’s Home?” (1925)
Dovid Knut (1900-1955) “I, Dovid-Ari Ben Meir…” (1925)
   “A Kishinev Burial” (1929)
   “The Land of Israel” (1938)
Isaac Babel (1894-1940) “The Rabbi’s Son” (1925)
   “Awakening” (1931)
Vera Inber (1890-1972) “The Nightingale and the Rose” (1925)
Elizaveta Polonskaya (1890-1969) “Encounter” (1927)
Viktor Fink (1888-1973) “The Preachers” and “The New Culture” from Jews on the Land (1929)
Semyon Kirsanov (1906-1972) “R” (1929)
Eduard Bagritsky (1895-1934) “Origin”(1930)
   From February (1934)
Mark Egart (1901-1956) From Scorched Land (1932)
Ilya Ilf (1897-1937) and Evgeny Petrov (1903-1942) “The Prodigal Son Returns Home” (1930) by Ilf
   From The Little Golden Calf (1931) by Ilf and Petrov
Raisa Blokh (1899-1943?) “A snatch of speech came floating on the air…” (1932)
   “Remember, father would stand…” (1933)

War and Shoah: 1940s
Editor’s Introduction
Boris Yampolsky (1921-1972) “Mr. Dykhes and Others”
   from Country Fair (ca. 1940)
Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) “To the Jews” (1941)
“Six Poems” (The January 1945 Novy mir cycle)
Ilya Selvinsky (1899-1968) “I Saw It”; “Kerch” (1942)
Sofia Sofia Dubnova-Erlikh (1885-1986) Two Wartime Essays: “Shtetl” (1943);
   “Scorched Hearth” (1944)
Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) “The Hell of Treblinka” (1944)
Pavel Antokolsky (1896-1978) “Death Camp” (1945)
Yury German (1910-1967) from Lieutenant Colonel of the Medical Corps (1949)
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) “In the Lowlands” (1944)
   “Odessa” (1944)
   From Doctor Zhivago (1946-[1955]; pub. 1957)

The Thaw, 1950s-1960s
Editor’s Introduction
Boris Slutsky (1919-1986) “These Abrám, Isák and Yákov…” (1953; pub. 1989)
   “Of the Jews” (1952-56; pub. 1961)
   “Horses in the Ocean” (1956)
   “Prodigal Son” (1956)
   “Puny Jewish children…” (1957-58; pub. 1989)
Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) From Life and Fate (1960; pub. 1980)
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) “Jewish graveyard near Leningrad…” (1958; pub. 1965)
   “I'm not asking death for immortality…” (ca. 1961; pub. 1992)
Vladimir Britanishsky (1933-2015) “A German Girl” (1957-58; pub. 1993)
Yuly Daniel (1925-1988) From This Is Moscow Speaking (1961)
Emmanuil Kazakevich (1913-1962) “Enemies” (1962)
Yan Satunovsky (1913-1982) “Girls with golden eyes..." (1960; pub. 1990s)
   “You’re mistaken…” (1961; pub. 1990s)
   “It’s the end of our nation…” (1962; pub. 1990s)
   “My Slavic language is Russian…” (1963; pub. 1990s)
   “I’m Moyshe from Berdichev…” (1963; pub. 1990s)
   “Eve, a civilized Jewess…” (1964; pub. 1990s)

Late Soviet Empire and Collapse: 1960s-1990s
Editor’s Introduction
Vassily Aksyonov (1932-2009) “Victory: A Story with Exaggerations” (1965)
Aleksandr Kushner (b. 1936) “When that teacher in Poland, so as not…” (1966)
   “Letters” (1966)
Genrikh Sapgir (1928-1999) “In Memory of My Father” (1962; pub. 1999)
   “Psalm 3” (1965-66; pub. 1979)
   “Psalm 132 (133)” (1965-66; pub. 1988)
   “Psalm 136 (137)” (1965-66; pub. 1993)
   “Psalm 150” (1965-66; pub. 1993)
   “A Pole Rode” (1985; pub. 1992)
Semyon Lipkin (1911-2003) “Khaim” (1973; pub. 1979)
Yuri Karabchievsky (1938-1992) From Life of Aleksandr Zilber (1974-75)
Inna Lisnianskaia (1928-2014) “My father, a military doctor…” (1975; pub. 1980)
   “An Incident” (1981; pub. 1983)
Boris Slutsky (1919-1986) “Let’s cross out the Pale…“ (1970s; pub. 1985)
   “The rabbis came down to the valley…” (before 1977; pub. 1989)
Anatoly Rybakov (1911-1998) From Heavy Sand (1975-77; pub. 1978)
Yuri Trifonov (1925-1981) “A Visit with Marc Chagall” (1980) from The Overturned House
Lev Ginzburg (1921-1980) From Only My Heart Was Broken (1980)
Evgeny Reyn (b. 1935) “For the Last Time” (1987)
Sara Pogreb (b. 1921) “I’m going to see my grandparents. The cart…” (1986)
   “I'm bidding farewell to the slush….” (1989)
   Izrail Metter (1909-1996) From Pedigree (1980s)
Aleksandr Mezhirov (1923-2009) From Blizzard (1986-2000)
Bella Ulanovskaya (1943-2005) A Journey to Kashgar (1973-1989)
Aleksandr Melikhov (b. 1947) From The Confession of a Jew (1993)
Ludmila Ulitskaya (b. 1943) “Genele the Purse Lady” (1993)

The Jewish Exodus: 1970s-1990s
Editor’s Introduction
Lev Mak (b. 1937 [1939] “A Farewell to Russia” (1974)
   “August in Odessa” (1974)
Boris Khazanov (b. 1928) From The King’s Hour (1968-69; pub. 1976; 1980)
Ilia Bokstein (1937-1999) “Afánta-Utóma” (“Fantasia-Judaica”) from Glints of the Wave (late 1960s-1970s; pub. 1978)
David Markish (b. 1938) “The Appearance of Prophet Elijah, 1714” from The Jesters (1981-82)
Michael Kreps (1940-1994) “Cat with a Yellow Star” (1980s)
   “Call of the Ancestors” (1980s)
Philip Isaac Berman (b. 1936) “Sarah and Rooster” (1988)
Ruth Zernova (1919-2004) “All Vows” (1988)
David Shrayer-Petrov (b. 1936) “Chagall’s Self-Portrait with Wife” (1975; pub. 1990)
   “My Slavic Soul” (1975; pub. 1990)
   “Villa Borghese” (1987-90)
   “Hände Hoch!” (1999)
Marina Temkina (b. 1948) “1995: Happy New Year” (1995)
Dina Rubina (b. 1953) From Here Comes the Messiah (1996)
Friedrich Gorenstein (1932-2002) “The Arrest of an Antisemite” (1998)
Anna Gorenko (1972-1999) “The Golem” (1997)
   “Translating from the European” (1999)

An Outline of Jewish-Russian History by John D. Klier

Bibliography of Primary Sources
Index of Authors
Index of Translators
Index of Names, Places and Works
About the Editor