Today’s guest post is by Clyde.
I just read From the Fair, the delightful autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish author of the Tevye the Milkman stories and many others. If you like Fiddler on the Roof, you might like to get a deeper feel for the world of Tevye and his village. You might also like to read the original stories, which are if anything more charming than the musical. He writes the autobiography in third person, even though he repeatedly makes it clear it is his own real life story, which adds another dimension to the narration.
Reading the book has inspired me to get back to work on my long-neglected fictionalized story of my childhood, wishing I had anything like his narrative gift.
Aleichem, whose life was contemporaneous with Mark Twain, was often called the Yiddish Mark Twain, to which Twain responded, “Tell him I am the American Sholom Aleichem.” They shared much in common, such as an allegorical pen name. Twain’s name means essentially “safe water” in steamboating terms. Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich chose the name Sholom Alecheim because it is both the common greeting in Yiddish and a blessing of peace upon another person. Their chosen names also have a sonorious ring to them.
Both men were mostly self-taught, were raised in poverty in backwater villages, survived many family tragedies such as the death of a parent in childhood, made and lost a couple of fortunes due to bad investments, and were very successful public speakers. Both were brilliant at characterization, were masters of dialogue especially dialects, and did much to invent the literature of their culture.
I have included a photo of the statue of Aleichem in Kiev. It is wonderfully ironic that Russia and Kiev honor him this way, considering how the tsarist regime treated Jews and that Aleichem had to hide when he lived in Kiev because he did not have a license to live there, as required of all Jews.
Unlike Twain, Aleichem was deeply religious and superstitious. For instance, his tombstone in New York City lists his death date as May 12a, 1916 because he was afraid of the number thirteen. He died too young before finishing From the Fair. The abrupt ending is unsatisfying, but well, L’Chaim to his life and all of ours.
If you were to use a pen name, what would it be?