The Great Fair: Scenes from My Childhood, by Sholom Aleichem
Take up the autobiography of a writer in that rare and, to us, almost unimaginably golden situation which was Sholom Aleichem’s—a writer whose very substance and identity were indivisible from his material and his audience, a writer to whom it never occurred to think or talk about his “position as a writer”—and you can be sure of one thing: this will be no Portrait of the Artist as a Young Kasrilovkite. Even if he had tried such an unlikely thing, his heart could never have been in it, or in any self-consciously defensive or solemnly contrived re-creation of his childhood, any attempt to show “how I became a famous writer despite the slings and arrows of outrageous mother, father, teachers, brothers, sisters . . . .” Instead, the shape and mood of this unfinished autobiography—had written only two sections before he died, in 1916—are as uniquely natural, ruminative, amiably discursive, roundabout, and relaxed as any other stories he told. And if The Great Fair doesn’t quite measure up to the most memorable work of Sholom Aleichem—if there are no Tevyes here, no Menachem Mendels or Mottels—it still has for us the renewing freshness of reading Chekhov or Dickens after a steady diet of the newer directions of literary autobiography. Imagine it!—a writer telling us about his own life, and we are confronted with stories and people that are all quite free of the gratingly familiar tics and strains and stresses; no agonized, injured innocents trembling with sensibility and spite, the stocks-in-trade of most contemporary writing about childhood.
About the Author