Soyoung Choi Choi itibaren Maligathenna, Sri Lanka
A young Catholic-born translator with a love of Yiddish literature and the (self-proclaimed) last Yiddish poet living in America provide two narrative threads that converge after a shocking denouement. Itsik Malpesh is a Russian Jew who grew up during the vicious czarist pogroms of the early 20th century. The son of a feather-plucking goose-down factory manager, he was exposed to the slaughter of animals and people at a tender age. His actual birth occurred in the midst of a brutal attack on his family. As a young boy, he is arrested by romantic fantasies of the butcher's daughter, Sasha, who was present at his birth. Although he has never met Sasha, he is obsessively in love with her and spends much of his young years on a journey to meet her. By the time they meet, he has composed hundreds of poems about his passionate love for her. His epic memoirs from Kishinev to Baltimore are contained in a stack of accounting ledgers. His love affair with language is expressed continuously through symbolic language, extended metaphors (many of them relating to his early years in the goose-down factory), playful contradictions and aphoristic passages. Malpesh plucks words like his father plucked geese, he turns them, bleeds them (like his father's machine invention to pluck feathers from geese), lets them fall lightly like feathers until the lightness of words falls like snow that covers the earth. Like the Kabbalist scholars, Malpesh understands that there is a mystical, earth-shaking relationship between the smallest letter and the mysteries of creation. "You see how language itself explains the mysteries of man?" and "Such letters. The flexibility of the alef-beys impress me even now." From his beginnings shoveling goose droppings through his apprenticeship with typesetting and then in a sweat shop in America, Malpesh's poetry travels with him and within him. At the age of ninety-three he meets the young translator. The translator is in a liminal time of life, a recent graduate of religious studies working in a warehouse shelving Yiddish books. He meets a woman, falls in love, and suffers the consequences of a lie. The novel alternates between Malpesh's life and the translator's notes. Although they are very different men who lived diametrically opposed lives, they ultimately mirror each other through their emotional experiences. The writing itself deserves five stars. However, the denouement, as jolting as it was, was given a secondary treatment. The disruption of moral fibers left a taste like too many feathers in my mouth. Even by the story's end, I couldn't get rid of the discomfort. However, the journey of letters, words, language, religion, poetry, and love provide a provocative, piercing, and passionate adventure for the reader. If you love the literature of Michael Chabon and Natahan Englander, I am confident that you will enjoy this book.