Would you like to read a classic Yiddish novel about hasidic wife swapping, messianism and Polish nationalism?
That was a rhetorical question—of course you would. And the opportunity is within your grasp: Michael Wex, Yiddishist and author of the New York Times bestseller “Born to Kvetch,” is spearheading a campaign to translate Joseph Opatoshu’s 1921 masterpiece, In Poylishe Velder (“In the Forest of Poland”), into English. Says Wex:
“[This] is one of the most important works of world literature with which you’re probably unfamiliar. A vast panorama of Jewish life in Poland during the 1850s, Opatoshu’s novel concentrates on backwoods Jews who live among gentile peasants rather than in Jewish communities in cities or shtetlekh. Touching as it does on hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland.”
If that summary sounds like the premise of a dangerously addictive HBO series, wait till you read the tantalizing excerpt accompanying Wex’s IndieGoGo pitch:
“Half-naked in a garnet-studded kerchief, the Rebbe’s grandaughter, Dushke, sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by women and Hasidim holding one another by the hand. Heads back, eyes closed—had their feet not been shuffling, you’d have thought the intensity of their devotion had plunged them into a trance.
A squat man was standing in a corner, beating his head against the wall, smearing himself with the blood that flowed from his forehead and nose, and crying out in a voice full of weeping, “Father, father, oy father. Two young women were holding each other by the hand and spinning faster and faster, their dresses billowing out like open umbrellas. They threw themselves into each other’s arms, sank down and lay on the floor, exhausted.”
Wex is crowd-sourcing the funds for the project because he wants to free translation from the stultifying clutches of the academic press and publish the book online, for free, in perpetuity. Sounds like a metziah to this literary nerd.
Judd Apatow, Matthew Weiner, are you listening?