Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Art of the Novella: Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem

For my third novella, I chose Sholem Aleichem's Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, because it's been in my TBR pile for a long time and it's about time I got around to reading it!

Stempenyu tells the story of a famed Yiddish violinst who travels from place to place winning fans, fortune and acclaim- and leaving a trail of broken hearts. Then one day he meets Rochalle, a beautiful married woman and a kind of Emma Bovary of the shtetl, and falls in love.
But Rochalle isn't like Emma in one respect- despite her love for Stempenyu, she has no real desire to actually cheat on her husband, or indulge in a fantasy life. True, she's frustrated and lonely, and true, her husband doesn't appear to have much to offer, but she's smart and she's lucky, and things might not turn out so badly for her after all.

I kind of loved this little book. I've tried to read Aleichem before and never really had much luck with him, truth be told. Wandering Stars, his novel about traveling Yiddish actors, is still gathering dust somewhere in my house. But this book was just my speed- charming and loquacious like all of his work, it has a strong plot and wonderful characters, and without giving too much away, I'm glad that he gave his heroine a happy ending. It's a refreshing change from novels where women are punished for their passions. It's also a really fun and loving portrait of a lost world and the colorful figures that inhabited it. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this great novella!

The Art of the Novella Challenge is hosted by Frances of Nonsuch Book. You can also visit the Melville House site here.

Other novellas I've read for the challenge:
The North of God, by Steve Stern
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville

This brings me up to the 3-book level. I'm going for 6! Next up is The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef.


bermudaonion said...

You are really getting into the novellas - it actually sounds like a great way to introduce yourself to new authors.

Zibilee said...

Your comparison of this one to Madame Bovary really intrigues and I also am interested in how Rochalle fairs at the end of the story after all is said and done. It sounds like a great little novella, and one that I wouldn't mind checking out.

nicole said...

Great post! The Bovary connection is of course undeniable, but Rochalle's overarching goodness makes for quite a contrast to Emma.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Glad to see you on the Novella reading. Though novellas could be a fun way to get introduced to an author it could also suffer from poor character development.

Audra said...

Love this review! You got me at " It's a refreshing change from novels where women are punished for their passions." -- I'm adding this to the TBR!

Erika D. said...

Lovely post, Marie! The concept of "Emma Bovary of the shtetl" really caught my attention. I've been marveling over your many novella tweets and am glad that the Jewish Book Carnival made me slow down and take a closer look at what they're all about. Thank you.

Kathy B. said...

I am so intrigued by this "Art of the Novella" Challenge. Since I have little time for books-my-age, perhaps I should focus on Novellas? I may totally have to try this. Thanks, Marie. More books for the pile.