THE FAMILY MASHBER by Der Nister (The Hidden One)


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A huge realistic novel that came as a full about-turn by one of the most interesting of avant-garde Russian Yiddish writers; published in 1939, then again in 1948--and therefore revealing itself as a work acceptable to Stalinist aesthetics. It must have been the portrayal of the specifically financial rise and fall of Moshe Mashber, a wealthy Ukrainian Jewish businessman, that allowed it to pass muster: Der Nister (who wrote always tinder this pseudonym) creates a cacophony of greed, manipulation, and Shylockery that might easily have drawn nods of official anti-capitalist approval. Yet in the doing he also produced a huge journalistic chronicle that just as importantly deals with Moshe Mashber's ascetic brother Luzi (who becomes a Bratislaver Chassid, a follower of Rabbi Nachman) and the third Mashber brother, Alter (once nearly autistic, now reborn into carnality). What Der Nister does best is not novelize with these characters, entwine them in plot--the book doesn't hold up compared to I.J. Singer's The Brothers Ashkenazi or I.B. Singer's The Manor--what he does best is list every salient detail of 19th-century Ukrainian Jewish life and types, from the different synagogues to the parochial disputes to the brothels to the moneylenders: all are recorded with stunning comprehensiveness. This encyclopedic zeal makes for quite a valuable book--all honor to which has been done by Wolf's fine translation.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1987
Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster