Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation

Paul Kriwaczek’s Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation is an admirable attempt to trace the history of Ashkenazi Jews from their early origins to their near destruction by the Nazis and continued growth in the New World.

Unfortunately, Kriwacek seems a bit out of his element at times.  He wants there to be an entity such as a Yiddish nation, somehow divorced from the Jewish religion, self-governing and internally consistent, but then goes on to explain how complex the story actually is, as provides gives counter examples to this thesis.  

This exposes yet another flaw in the book: it is so far ranging, often veering off the topic of Yiddish speaking Jews entirely, that even for its length, the book does not appear to cover the topic adequately.  Readers may be left wondering such crucial questions as: what is the origin of the Yiddish language?  What is the origin of this unique people?  How did the language change over time?

Indeed, Kriwaczek covers these topics, but not in depth.  They are buried  by the weight of other, less important details.
In the end, the book is unsatisfying.  The reader is left with too many unanswered questions in a book purportedly written to answer them.

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