Even the title of the book isn’t really translatable, encompassing as it does more than a language. Yiddishkeit is a people, it’s culture, and an era of history, all but obliterated by the Nazis. So all the more interesting to take on a language, a sound, and the essence of Ashkenazi Judaism in a graphic novel, that is with pictures. Yiddishkeit, the book and the culture, are a sprawling amalgam of history and storytelling, plays and text, cartoons, and serious literary analysis, and above all, opinionated. Pekar, Buhle, and their coauthors have assembled a textbook with a surprising format, but they capture the spirit and for those of us that love Yiddishkeit, we are glad that they have.
A journalist who traveled from childhood memories to adult memories from urban NY to Austria’s highest peaks in search of Hans Breuer, Yiddish folk singer and “last wandering shepherd of Austria.” Apple manages to seamlessly tie shepherding and Yiddish into his questions about post-war Austria and contemporary anti-semitism in Europe suspensefully and full with satisfaction.
As a Hampshire College student in the late 70s, Lansky decides to learn Yiddish. At that time Yiddish, having barely survived the murderous rampage of the Holocaust, was being finished off by assimilating Jews anxious to distance themselves from their ghettoized past. Lansky found himself a teacher, an old textbook, and I.B. Singer’s Satan in Goray. Then he could not find any other Yiddish book in print. He puts an ad in the paper searching for extant Yiddish books and starts collecting. Outwitting History is the story of how he saves more than a million Yiddish books and in so doing probably also saves a language and a culture from extinction. He does it, too, with enormous modesty. July 2008
Wex is three-fourths scholar and one quarter stand-up comic. In departure from say Rosten’s books on Yiddish, which list words, definitions, and accompanying anecdotes, Wex puts Yiddish in its sociological and historical context. So more than learning a few words, which by and large go by too fast and in constructions that are too long to recall, I learned an immense amount about why Yiddish was an essential language for people living apart — both by choice and by force — from their European goyish neighbors. If it is at all possible, I recommend listening to Wex read his book on CD. September 2006
Proof that passionate writing overwhelms mundane subject matter. AJ Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and writes a book about it.. Naturally, his book begins with A-ak and ends with Zywiec. The interstices are largely filled with esoterica (both short and long), but my what fascinating trivia there is. His writing is compelling, the selection of topics unfailingly topical, one-liners had me laughing aloud, frequently, and there is enough plot surrounding what happens to AJ’s friends and family while he disappears on an apparently fruitless journey that in sum I kept turning the pages to see what was next. I can’t ask for anything more of any book. July 2008
What a hoot! The book is one heck of a lot of fun.