An enthralling, entertaining and compelling collection of short stories that follow the great Yiddish storytelling traditions in tone and style: tackling life’s questions, big and banal, with an evocative, humorous and thought-provoking authority. In each one, Fein excels in drawing the reader into another reality, to experience, to become part of the story and the characters’ lives as they unfold.
“Oh Lord, I know we are the Chosen People but just for once couldn’t you choose somebody else?” is an old plea, heartsick yet ironic, and with it these stories lift off on their journey around the world. From Melbourne to the Gold Coast, from Montreux to Jerusalem the tales examine the question of whether it is better to be chosen or ignored by a capricious creator.
The stories are discrete but connected by their representations of various generations of the tormented. A mediaeval legend taken from the Talmud is gentle with gender ambiguity yet follows it to its unforeseen end. A tale of magical realism tells of a rabbi, a student who falls in love with him and a shadow-soul from a distant era. The three of them dance together in the present but the shadow-soul takes the rabbi back to a time of corruption and evil.
There are depressive lawyers and drunken students and there is a dreamer who finds herself inside the world of the hard-boiled detective. Finally, there is a taste of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the saga of girls living together at an exclusive Swiss school.
Both darkness and humour are brought into play to chronicle the disturbances – large and small – bedevilling the protagonists’ lives. Almost all of them are engaged in problematic attempts to flee reality. Many suffer from the legacy of history’s nightmares yet somehow, with mordant wit and melancholic acuity so characteristic of their tribe, many of them find a way to make their journey worthwhile.