Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When Shlemiel went to Warsaw, by Isaac Bashevis Singer

This book is (as the title suggests) a collection of short stories. They all take place in Eastern Europe in a Jewish cultural setting. I found myself wishing I had someone to read these out loud to - they're very much in a storytelling style, and beg for it. Enough that I did a little reading aloud to myself, when nobody was around! The stories are clever and entertaining, and it was a fun read. I think kids aged roughly 9-11 would enjoy it a lot, as they will feel smarter than a lot of the main characters in the stories (I mean, a man gets turned around on a journey and ends up back at his house, but he thinks he's ended up at a house exactly like his own somewhere else!) and have fun guessing what might happen.

I will say that the stories could be a bit confusing for a kid without much exposure to Jewish culture - I know, for example, roughly what a Golem is, and why candlesticks would be important for the Sabbath, but I really wouldn't have when I was a kid, and a lot of the details of these stories would have been entirely lost on me. Which is not to say the exposure wouldn't have been good for me - it certainly would have! But a certain degree of familiarity with the setting is taken for granted, and this might be worth addressing if your reader is completely new to the idea.

Overall, definitely worth picking up - an entertaining read for an adult, would make an excellent read-aloud book, and a great exposure to one of the 20th century's great storytellers. I enjoyed it so much that I plan on looking for some of the author's adult books after this.

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