Judgement- by David Bergelson   Leave a comment

This is the first time this novel has been translated from Yiddish into English since it was written in 1929.

David Bergelson was born in Ukraine in 1884 and travelled throughout Europe, eventually moving to the USSR in 1934, as a committed communist and wrote for the Yiddish culture within the Soviet Borders. Bergelson eventually fell foul of Stalin and was executed in 1952.

Judgement is based at the border of Poland and Ukraine. During the Early 1920s when the area is being affected by the continuing Russian revolution which began in 1917. There are several factions all struggling for power, whereas the local people living in the small villages or Shetls, are struggling to survive. They rent out rooms to people seeking to cross the border; they themselves buy and sell goods from across the border, even crossing themselves. The factions wish to bring in supporters from over the border and political literature, but the communism overlords have established themselves a centre in a local monastery and are determined to bring this free trade to an end.

Bergelson is usually regarded as noteworthy for his documenting the disintegration of the traditional Jewish Shetl, as the new communist system begins to assert order. His writing is also unusual in that he includes non-Jews in his characters, acknowledging that they also lived in the Shetls.

I was interested in the fact that, since Bergelson lived in Russia, he was presumably a contented communist, yet the leader, Filipov, who could be said to symbolise communism itself, is perpetually ill and also is defeated at the end. Perhaps, by the time of writing, Bergelson was not totally converted to communism. It would certainly not have been acceptable to produce writing of this type whilst living under Stalin.

Bergelson would have been writing a lot of this story from personal experience, he lived through this truly complex time when no one knew who would finally gain power, or indeed who to support. It is a time often avoided in history, as it is truly so confusing to understand. The novel has a long introduction lacing the novel fully in context and is a great aid to understanding the work.

I have read works by Singer and enjoyed them thoroughly. This is a similar work, but written in a totally different, much more poetic style. I would greatly recommend this novel to any reader.

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Posted September 12, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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