This piece by Julie Masis is full of interesting stuff. It starts (after a great picture of the magnificently mustachioed author) by describing a Sholem Aleichem short story called “Homesickness,” one of his stories that were censored in the Soviet Union and have been translated into Russian for the first time.
“This story expresses Zionist sentiments. It shows us the Sholem Aleichem that we didn’t know,” said Rabbi Boruch Gorin, editor of Knizhniki, the Moscow-based publishing house which translated the story from Yiddish. The story wasn’t included in the Soviet collections because “it didn’t fit with how Soviet authorities portrayed Sholem Aleichem,” he said.
Sholem Aleichem, best known for his “Tevye the Dairyman” story on which the film “Fiddler on the Roof” is based, was born in the Russian Empire in 1859 and died in 1916.
Yet while extensive collections of his work were published in the Soviet Union, some of his stories were never translated — sometimes for murky reasons. […]
In the pieces that were actually published in the USSR, chunks related to religion were cut, as were Hebrew passages that Soviet translators (who spoke Yiddish but not Hebrew) didn’t understand, Gorin said. In one story, published in the 1930s when there was hunger in the Soviet Union, even the Shabbat meal was censored.
“In the Soviet translation, half the dishes weren’t included. I think they didn’t want people to read about how well people ate in a poor shtetl,” Gorin said. […]
Despite Soviet shortcomings with Sholem Aleichem, the books of other Yiddish authors — many of whom lived and wrote about the Russian Empire — were even less likely to be translated to Russian.
For example, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who received the Nobel Prize in literature, was completely unknown in the Soviet Union. His books were not translated to Russian at all because of his anti-communist views, Gorin said.
The books of Isaac B. Singer and his older brother Israel J. Singer, who was also an acclaimed writer, were printed for the first time in Russian in recent years.
In the next six months, Knizhniki will publish Zalman Shneur’s historical novel about the arrest of the first head rabbi of the Chabad dynasty by the Russian tsar in the 18th century. The novel, entitled “The Rabbi and the Tsar” has never been printed in Russian.
“We want to introduce the public to a great European culture. It’s a forgotten culture that we need to return to the readers,” Gorin said. “Yiddish literature compares (in its sophistication) to English and Russian literature. Yet it appeared and died away within one generation. That’s a tragedy.” […]
Despite some problems with Soviet publications, more of Sholem Aleichem’s work has been translated to Russian than to English, said Itzik Gottesman, the president of the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center in New York.
In addition, Russian translations were usually of better quality than the English ones because they were done by professional writers rather than by academics, Gorin said. For example, renowned Russian author Isaac Babel translated and edited some of Sholem Aleichem’s work but the translations were lost after he was arrested by Stalin’s police.
Incidentally, I notice that the cover of a magazine shown in a photo features an interview with “Эфраим Зурофф” [Efraim Zuroff]. It’s always seemed odd to me that foreigners of Russian descent get their surnames rendered in Russian with -офф rather than -ов; since the two endings are pronounced exactly the same, it seems to come from a need to emphasize that the person is Not Really One of Us.
Thanks for the link, Paul!