A rare Aleichem work, one not even included in the standard Yiddish-language collected works. The plot renders a version of the famous Beiliss trial, in which a Jew was accused in Czarist Russia of murdering a Gentile child in order to have Christian blood with which to bake Passover matzohs—the pathetic blood libel that's roiled Russian anti-Semitism for time immemorial (it was also the basis for Bernard Malamud's The Fixer). Here, two student friends get the at-first whimsical idea of trading places, Gentile with a Jew and vice versa: Grigori Popov becomes Hersh Rabinovich for a year, enrolls in dental school, and is eventually the suspect in the child murder. Meanwhile, the real Rabinovitch is living in relative splendor as a private tutor in another city. Both students fall in love with young women they cannot have—the cross-religious secret—and Aleichem keeps things moving by relentless comparison between mores, destinies, entitlements, strategies. Not surprisingly, the sections focusing on the false-Rabinovitch in the home of his landlord's family, the Shapiros, are the ones where Aleichem's characteristic humor and acute sociology fall best into place—especially about indignation and resignation as seemingly racial traits. Fairly mechanical and not as startling as the best Aleichem, but the authorial kibitzing (``In another room, Betty was creating a new coiffure, which was a pity. To take the hair with which nature had blessed her and to try to force it into some artificial style—feh!'') and muscular attack of the whole make it still characteristic of the author. Aliza Shevrin does the knotty job of translating all of this (the false-Rabinovitch is all at sea with Yiddish and is forever mispronouncing) quite well.
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