This is the first complete English-language translation of a classic of Yiddish literature, one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century. The Zelmenyaners describes the travails of a Jewish family in Minsk that is torn asunder by the new Soviet reality. Four generations are depicted in riveting and often uproarious detail as they face the profound changes brought on by the demands of the Soviet regime and its collectivist, radical secularism. The resultant intergenerational showdowns—including disputes over the introduction of electricity, radio, or electric trolley—are rendered with humor, pathos, and a finely controlled satiric pen. Moyshe Kulbak, a contemporary of the Soviet Jewish writer Isaac Babel, picks up where Sholem Aleichem left off a generation before, exploring in this book the transformation of Jewish life.

The Zelmenyaners was written and published in Minsk between 1929 and 1935, the heyday of short-lived cultural renaissance. Arrested in 1937 in the wave of Stalinist repression that hit the Minsk Yiddish writers and cultural activists with particular vehemence, and given a perfunctory show trial, Kulbak was shot on October 29 at the age of 41.

Translator Hillel Halkin is the New York Times bestselling author of Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist Polemic and Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel. He is the acclaimed translator of Sholem Aleichem’s masterpiece, Tevye the Dairyman, which was the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. He has translated the works of S. Y. Agnon and A. B. Yehoshua, and his essays and columns have appeared regularly in Commentary, the New Republic, the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Sun, among others.

Editor Sasha Senderovich holds a PhD from the department of Slavic languages and literatures at Harvard University.


Sholem Aleichem

Sholem Aleichem

Sholem Aleichem, pseudonym of Solomon Rabinovitsh (1859–1916), was one of the preeminent classical writers of modern Yiddish literature. His literary pseudonym was derived from the Hebrew expression “shalom aleichem,” meaning “peace be with you.” He arrived in New York in 1906 (after barely escaping a pogrom the previous year) as the world’s most famous Yiddish writer. Attesting to his popularity in the New World, Aleichem’s funeral was among the largest New York had ever seen.


  • book: The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son

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