THE BLOODY HOAX by Sholom Aleichem


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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ. Press