Page 114 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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SUSAN A. SLOTNICK
Chaim Grade’s Central Concern
On the Occasion of His 70th Birthday
F
rom
t h e
lyr ic
verse o f his debu t as a Yiddish poet in Vilna in the
1930s, th rough the songs o f lament and pro test o f the wartime
wanderer, to his postwar works o f eulogy and remembrance, the
writing o f Chaim G rade has drawn and held the atten tion o f
critics and readers o f Yiddish literature. G rade was in his early
twenties when he came from the traditional life o f a yeshiva
studen t to the modern world o f the generation o f Yiddish poets
who were called “Yung Vilna,” and were acknowledged to be the
leading new figures in Yiddish literature in interbellum Vilna.
Leaving tha t city ju s t before the German occupation, G rade wan­
dered th rough Russia du r ing World War II; the artistic p roduc t
o f these years are cycles o f poems about the spiritual and physical
trials th rough which he and his fellow refugees suffered . A fter
the war G rade re tu rn ed briefly to Poland, lived in Paris fo r a
while, and finally settled in the United States. It was only then tha t
the poet made his debu t as a prose writer, publishing memoirs,
short stories, novellas, and a few full-length novels.
G rade’s first artistic steps, his early lyric poems, were hailed for
the ir originality; the young poet was also seen as an artist roo ted
in the traditions o f Yiddish literature and o f Jewish life. His
postwar verse may be classified as par t o f the “litera tu re of
m ou rn ing” which constituted a major portion o f Yiddish writing
in the decade after the Holocaust. It was only in the postwar years
tha t G rade tu rned his talents to prose; his stories and novels are
usually praised for the ir detailed rende ring o f Jewish life in Vilna
between the two World Wars. Such an evaluation seems a p p ro ­
priate fo r the cycles o f memoirs, including the volume
Der Mames
Shabosim
(My Mother’s Sabbaths, 1955), and o the r collections o f
short pieces which, as the au tho r declares in his prefaces, are
specifically in tended to be a recreation o f bygone days in Vilna
(fo r in s tance , th e vo lum e
Der Shtumer M inyen,
T h e S ilen t
106