Wednesday, November 3, 2010

REVIEW: The Shadows of Berlin, by Dovid Bergelson

The Shadows of Berlin, by Dovid Bergelson. Published 2005 by City Lights Books.

The Shadows of Berlin is a small, slim book of short stories by one of the Soviet Union's most important Yiddish writers, Dovid Bergelson, who wrote several novellas, novels and essays before his execution by Stalin in 1952 as part of Stalin's purge of Yiddish culture.

The book is made up of six short stories, each one sort of dark and modernistic, covering the lives both secret and public of emigres in a colorless and flat Europe. Two stories that stand out for me are the first, "Two Murderers," about a man who comes to board with a woman whose dog has killed a child, and who is himself responsible for a pogrom in Ukraine, and "Among Refugees," about another young man who is in Berlin looking for an infamous pogromist who he believes is living nearby.  The third, "Blindness," is about a man who finds a diary written by an unhappy wife as she relives a youthful infatuation; the reaction of her husband at the very end is chilling.

Part of Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza
All of Bergelson's stories here are dark and moody and challenging, all the more so for being so brief. Bergelson creates tight, tiny worlds in his pages, and there's never a happy ending or even much sign of hope for his characters. Set exclusively in Europe but dealing with the inner turmoils of refugees and emigres, there is a sadness that permeates this volume and a nostalgia for better times. Definitely not casual or light reading, I'd recommend The Shadows of Berlin for readers with a serious interest in Soviet-era Yiddish literature; although I enjoyed them and think they're very accomplished, I don't think this book will appeal to most general readers.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


bermudaonion said...

I don't think that's the book for me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

These stories sound a bit too dark for me, but I love being able to find out about them, so I appreciate the review anyway! :--)

Zibilee said...

You know, I think I might like this book. I sometimes enjoy darker and more somber works, and I am not bothered when things don't always have a happy ending. I think the main thing that draws me toward this book is that it sounds really reflective and moody, and very atypical of the things I have been reading lately. Great review Marie. I am going to have to try to give this one a go.

Anonymous said...

Great review, Marie. I must get this one.micker

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review.
Did you find the translation OK?
I know in the past (many years ago) there were some issues with Yiddish translations.

Kathleen said...

I'm not sure if I am ready for this one but I know someone I can recommend it to.

Ted said...

This sounds dark but compelling. I'm tempted to read it from your review.

Anonymous said...

I like dark and moody stories, and I'm intrigued by the author trying to do so much in so few words. I'll keep this one in mind.