Page 133 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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it is honest and forthright and does not falter in the presence of
tragedy—whether its source be social or metaphysical. It proceeds
from one of the distinctions of Yiddish literature: its social
ethos, its anchorage in the common folk and its sympathy with
them, its abhorrence of violence and brutality. In Reisen’s stories
and poems there is
that is, the scene is the little Jewish
town (
sh te tl
) Koidanov in White Russia, but it is a town that
we can all recognize and take to our hearts because its ethos
belongs to all of us.
Reisen’s style is noted for its simplicity and clarity. There are
no complex plots in his stories and there are rarely any tricks of
action or suspense. Their construction is smooth and their lan­
guage is easy and fluent. And since their subject matter is real­
istic and frequently familiar, the reader’s pleasure is twofold—
the pleasure of recognizing the subject matter and of perceiving
what the writer has done with it.
Because he never left the people out of sight, Reisen’s poems are
of himself without being egocentric, are subjective without being
morbidly introspective. They are of himself but their direction
is outward; they are an individual utterance but not a private
one, for they communicate thoughts and feelings that can be
discerned and therefore shared by others. Ordinary folk have
always understood him and cherished him for it, attributing it
to his simplicity and lucidity of style. Indeed, this lucidity and
simplicity are the result of much thinking and deep feeling and
superb craftsmanship, and cannot be detached, in Reisen’s best
work, from the formal intricacies which are there, elusive as
they may seem to be on a casual reading.
Reisen’s finest stories are of the old life, of Koidanov, of the
men and women he knew there—of artisans, preachers, cantors,
rabbis, Talmudic students, workers. There were no heroes in
Koidanov, no adventures to speak of; nor were there unusual
emotional upheavals in its inhabitants. There was poverty and
there was drabness, and now and then a smallness of spirit. How
could it be otherwise? . . . when several potatoes represented the
precarious margin between hunger and plenty (“A Drama Over
Five Potatoes”); when Yankele, who could not get a new pair