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Satan in Goray, by Isaac Bashevis Singer; The Prophet, by Sholem Asch

- Abstract

The two foremost living Yiddish writers of fiction, seventy-five-year-old Sholem Asch and Isaac Bashevis Singer, younger by nearly a quarter of a century, are each represented on the publishers’ lists this season with a novel in English translation. It is a little unfair to set The Prophet and Satan in Goray side by side, one of Asch’s poorest books, one of Bashevis Singer’s best. Satan in Goray established itself as a classic some twenty years ago, and is still so regarded. The Prophet, on the other hand, is Asch’s latest work, the fourth of his “neo-Christian” novels and perhaps the least successful. Like the originals of most of his recent books, the Yiddish version of The Prophet has remained in manuscript.

Even in translation one can sense how different these two writers are as Yiddish stylists. The contrast is not merely personal; Asch and Bashevis represent the two basic modes of Yiddish prose developed during the half-century embraced by their work. Asch’s style, which always seems baroque and a bit too precious in translation, is a wondrous thing to behold in the original. Out of mutilated syntax, whorled phraseology, and entangled jargon, emerges an art primordial and overwhelming in its effect.

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