Page 133 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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tic love and a place in high society. Thu s even her own rejection o f
trad ition , shown in the novel to be a symptom o f her dangerous
path , is itself within the conventions o f the n ineteenth-century
genre which it continues. Mirl is not moved by e ither romance or
passion, but by a desire to understand herse lf and her situation, in
individual ra the r than social terms; her relationship to tradition
— the religion o f her parents, for instance — is indifference,
which is her reaction to everything else tha t she senses to be irre le­
vant to h er quest for meaning. In
Nokh alemen,
Bergelson tran ­
scends the conventions and orientation o f his predecessors and
creates, in Mirl, one o f the first truly modern heroines o f the Yid­
dish novel.
Bergelson’s striking modernism notwithstanding, the fetters of
tradition were strong enough to prom p t many readers o f
particularly at the time o f its publication, to see it as a
statement about the decline o f the shtetl in general, and o f the old
Jewish aristocracy in particular — both familiar themes o f turn-
of-the-century Yiddish fiction.5A similar assessment was made of
Bergelson’s second novel,
(Departure, 1920).6 In fact,
— like
Nokh alemen
— uses the background o f the provin­
cial town as backdrop to an examination o f the existential ques­
tion; while the first novel was permeated by the heroine’s impres­
sionistic mode o f perception and emotion,
focusses on the
intellectual clarity o f its main protagonist, the mathematician
Khayim-Moyshe. His sojourn in the sleepy shtetl o f Rakitne p ro ­
vides him with the raw material, time and space to puzzle out the
question that has haun ted him for years: if there is no purpose or
meaning to life, why not simply commit suicide?
O f course, the shtetl background was well known to readers of
5 See M. Shalit, “Der ibergangspunkt” in his
Literarishe etyudn
(Vilna: Sh.
Shreberk, 1920), p. 22; Sh. Niger, “Dovid Bergelson:
Nokh alemen"]
and many
other contemporary reviewers of this first novel.
6 For instance, Bal-Makhshoves, “
fun Dovid Bergelson” (dated 1923),
reprinted in his
Geklibene verk
(New York: CYCO, 1953), pp. 295-301; N.
Mayzl, “Bergelsons roman
in his
Noente un vayte,
1 (Vilna: Kletskin,
1927), pp. 107-114; and Y. Botoshanski, “Dovid Bergelson” in his
peyrushim fun yidishe shrayber
(Buenos Aires: Talleres Graficos, 1952), pp.