It's the birthday this month of the
late Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winning author who, perhaps more than
any other writer in this century, has kept the vivid idioms of Yiddish alive and
in print in this country through his many short stories, novels for adults, and
works for children. Though he was fluent in English, Singer wrote most of his
work in his mother tongue, the language he brought with him from Poland in 1935,
the language of the ghettos and the shethls. Yiddish was, he said in his Nobel
acceptance speech, "a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers,
not supported by any government."
Singer stayed with folklore, and stayed with Yiddish because, he said, literature needed to have what he called, "an address" with "deep roots in a specific soil" and in its folklore and mythology. Children's books, he felt, kept us close to these roots. "In our epoch," he wrote, "when storytelling has become a forgotten art and . . . . long after literature for adults will have gone to pieces, books for children will constitute the last vestige of storytelling, logic, faith in the family, in God and in real humanism. . . . In our time, when the literature for adults is deteriorating, good books for children are the only hope, the only refuge."
Visit his country in books like Mazel and Schlimazel, The Fools of Chelm, or Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus and you'll find that refuge and those roots.
Copyright © 2002, John Cech
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