The Abandoned Book and other Yiddish Stories: An Anthology of PaknTreger Translations
Edited by Eitan Kensky
Yiddish Book Center
The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, founded in 1980, is the repository of more than a million Yiddish books that would otherwise likely be abandoned or destroyed. The story of its founding is told by founder Aaron Lansky in his 2004 book, Outwitting History.
In 1982, the centre began to publish a magazine, PaknTreger (parcel carrier), which contains articles, stories and poems of Jewish and specifically Yiddish interest.
PaknTreger regularly carries translations from Yiddish, and also publishes a special annual translation issue. The Abandoned Book and other Yiddish Stories: An Anthology of PaknTreger Translations is a compilation of stories from the magazine. In his introduction to this book, PaknTreger editor Eitan Kensky writes, “The aim of PaknTreger, and of this anthology, is to showcase the diversity of Yiddish prose.”
The anthology contains 30 selections, most of them fiction, with a small number of nonfiction prose pieces.
(Disclosure: My translation of “The Destiny of a Poem,” Itzik Manger’s narrative about his trip to Poland in 1948 as the PEN delegate to speak at the establishment of a ghetto memorial is included in the anthology.)
The anthology is a document of transition. The title story is written by Avrom Reyzen, a well-known poet and short story writer of the early-20th century, and co-translated by Aaron Lansky and Leonard Glick, a retired professor. The abandoned book of the title turns out to be a Yiddish Bible that Esther, the central character, reads from every Shabbos afternoon, and that she stops reading when she comes to America. There are other stories that cross the ocean, stories that stay in Europe, and stories that happen in North America.
Among the authors represented are some who remain famous – including Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Itzik Manger – some who may have once been famous and who may become so again (depending how the translations work), and some who, apparently, have not been translated before.
The love stories are, as might be expected of Yiddish writers, ironic. There are one or two very funny sketches, and, of course, some sad ones. Canada is represented by at least two authors, Rokhl Korn and Bryna Bercovitch, both of whom settled in Montreal, and a number of translators (me included).
In addition to being a story collection, The Abandoned Book and other Yiddish Stories: An Anthology of PaknTreger Translations serves as a social history of the period it covers.
The book is available for purchase online at the Yiddish Book Center website – http://tinyurl.com/PaknTreger – and there is a copy at the Greenberg Families Library at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.