Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916) began writing his autobiography when he was 49 and was still working on it when he died at age 57. He considered From the Fair his greatest achievement, a book that combined the story of his life and a cultural and spiritual history of his times. Sholom Aleichem called it “my book of books, the Song of Songs of my soul.”
In 1908, a Russian newspaper in Kiev asked for an autobiographical sketch, and Sholom Aleichem decided to use a third-person narrative voice for what became a memoir. From the Fair was published in short installments, serialized for newspaper readers. It takes us from the author’s childhood in a Pale of Settlement shtetl to his first love and his early attempts at writing fiction and drama.
“I, Sholom Aleichem the writer, will tell the true story of Sholom Aleichem the man,” he writes, “informally and without adornments and embellishments, as if an absolute stranger were talking, yet one who accompanied him everywhere, even to the seven divisions of hell.”
The result is essential background for Sholom Aleichem’s works of fiction.
Curt Leviant is a prizewinning novelist, author of The Yemenite Girl and Passion in the Desert. His short stories and novellas have been published in many magazines and have been included in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories and other anthologies. He has won the Wallant Prize, an O. Henry Award, and is a Fellow in Literature of the National Endowment for the Arts. A frequent lecturer on Yiddish and Hebrew literature, he has also translated three other Sholom Aleichem collections.