Part of the Jewish Encounters series
The first comprehensive biography of one of the most beloved authors of all time: the creator of Tevye the Dairyman, the collection of stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof.
Novelist, playwright, journalist, essayist, and editor, Sholem Aleichem was one of the founding giants of modern Yiddish literature. The creator of a pantheon of characters who have been immortalized in books and plays, he provided readers throughout the world with a fascinating window into the world of Eastern European Jews as they began to confront the forces of cultural, political, and religious modernity that tore through the Russian Empire in the final decades of the nineteenth century.
But just as compelling as the fictional lives of Tevye, Golde, Menakhem-Mendl, and Motl was Sholem Aleichem’s own life story. Born Sholem Rabinovich in Ukraine in 1859, he endured an impoverished childhood, married into fabulous wealth, and then lost it all through bad luck and worse business sense. Turning to his pen to support himself, he switched from writing in Russian and Hebrew to Yiddish, in order to create a living body of literature for the Jewish masses. He enjoyed spectacular success as both a writer and a performer of his work throughout Europe and the United States, and his death in 1916 was front-page news around the world; a New York Times editorial mourned the loss of “the Jewish Mark Twain.” But his greatest fame lay ahead of him, as the English-speaking world began to discover his work in translation and to introduce his characters to an audience that would extend beyond his wildest dreams. In Jeremy Dauber’s magnificent biography, we encounter a Sholem Aleichem for the ages.
(With 16 pages of black-and-white illustrations)
About the Author
Jeremy Dauber is Assistant Professor at Columbia University.
“What makes Dauber’s book an ideal introduction to Sholem Aleichem is the way it judiciously places the writer at the forefront of ‘an emergent sense that Yiddish literature could and should be literary.’ Comprehensive, prodigiously researched . . . a life related in riveting detail.”
“Dauber celebrates his hero’s ups and downs—from rags to riches and back again, and then again forth—in terms that mimic the chatty narrative of . . . so many of Sholem Aleichem’s tongue-in-cheek tales of lovable rouges and fools.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Dauber is superb at situating the writer within his literary and historical context.”
“Dauber’s excellent The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem is a biography of the day-to-day life of a writer and an examination of the meaning of his works.”
“With an eye for interesting detail, Dauber takes us year-by-year through the life of the writer who entered this world as Sholem Rabinovich. [An] engrossing biography . . . graced with an occasional glint-in-the-eye touch.”
“Dauber brings the ‘Jewish Mark Twain’ to life.”
—The New Yorker
“A must for every Jewish bookshelf, this is the definitive biography of the Yiddish writer. Dauber knows the territory, and situates the writer in a time of upheaval and transition.”
“The first comprehensive biography of the giant of Yiddish literature. . . . Beautifully written.”
—The Jewish Week
“Could it be that we are just another invention of the man who called himself Sholem Aleichem? Revealing the many worlds contained in one man, Jeremy Dauber has managed to shine a light on what it means to be us: to be a Jew in this place and this time. It’s an experience that might be almost painful if Dauber’s book weren’t so funny, sharp, profound, and utterly alive.”
—Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love
“Sholem Aleichem’s life was as improbable and dramatic as any of his stories, and in this first comprehensive English-language biography of the greatest Yiddish writer, Jeremy Dauber marvelously brings the adventure to life. If you want to learn how European Jews first entered, laughing, into the horror and majesty of modern life, start here.”
—Dara Horn, author of The World to Come and A Guide for the Perplexed
“Two hundred thousand people turned out for Sholem Aleichem’s funeral in 1916. He was the most beloved writer the Jewish world had ever known, yet somehow it’s taken almost one hundred years for a proper biography to finally appear. Fortunately, Jeremy Dauber’s account was worth waiting for. The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem is original, comprehensive, insightful, and riveting. We all owe Dauber an enormous debt of gratitude.”
—Aaron Lansky, president, Yiddish Book Center and author of Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books
“Dauber brings to his task a comprehensive knowledge not only of Sholem Aleichem’s life but also of the contexts—historical and literary—in which he wrote and thrived. His prose is swift, clean, and clear, and the portrait that emerges is sharply focused.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Sholem Aleichem invented Tevye and his daughters, but if you think Fiddler on the Roof is the only reason we should remember him, just wait until you read The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem. In a warm and witty style suited to his subject, Dauber tells the story of the writer known as the ‘Yiddish Mark Twain’ and shows why Sholem Aleichem is one of the most important figures in modern Jewish culture. His story encompasses riches and poverty, revolution and emigration, Russia and America, literature and theater and journalism—all the opportunities and pressures of Jewish life in the modern world. This is the major biography Sholem Aleichem deserves.”
—Adam Kirsch, author of Why Trilling Matters