Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Friday, August 11, 2017

"Tsipke" - A Short Story by Salomea Perl (1916, translated from Yiddish by Ruth Murphy, 2017)

A Link to today's story


"At Hatskel the Butcher’s, Tsipke toiled like a horse. The household there, no evil eye, consisted of ten people, and each one of them screamed and yelled. From the minute the sun came up, she scraped and scoured, washed and polished. From daybreak on, she heard only blistering curses and a stream of abuse. Filth flowed from her in streams, and her hands were black and as bony as two sticks. The butcher called her a common tramp, and the butcher’s wife sent her running a hundred times a day: from the cellar to the butcher shop, from the butcher shop to the attic, from the attic to the barn, and from there barn to the cellar, as if she had legs of iron and the strength of a Russian soldier. Tsipke dared not open her mouth; the butcher’s wife was a real gem, and she would grab Tsipke—for the tiniest little thing—by the head and fling her to the devil himself.  Tsipke never cried. No one had ever seen her weep with tears nor ever heard a sob. Tsipke clucked. She would wedge herself into a corner and cluck for long periods of time, just like a hen that was being kept from sitting on her eggs. The clucking was a type of groan, like a hiccup, like a heart breaking." From Tsipke


Works I have read so far for Women In Translation Month - August, 2017

1.  "Happy New Year" by Ajaat Cour - Translated from Punjabi
2. "The Floating Forest" by Natsuo Kirino- Translated from Japanese
3. " A Home Near the Sea" by Kamala Das - Translated from Malayalam
4. "Maria" by Dacia Maraini- Translated from Italian
5. "Zletka" by Maja Hrgovic - Translated from Croatian
6. "Arshingar" by Jharna Raham - Translated from Bengali
7. "Tsipke" by Salomea Perl - Translated from Yeddish

This morning's story for Women in Translation Month was originally written in Yiddish.    Yiddish historically was the language of most Central European, German and Russian Jews.  Much great literature was written in Yiddish.  Prior to the Holocaust there were about ten million language speakers of Yiddish, about five million Yiddish speakers were murdered in the Holocaust.  At one point there were estimated 600,000 speakers of Yiddish in New York City.  Most of their children were raised speaking English only.  In Israel Hebrew is preferred to Yiddish.  Today it is estimated there are worldwide 1.5 million speakers of Yiddish.  Strong efforts are being made worldwide to keep Yiddish alive for future generations.  

Most Yiddish literature was written by men, in the culture the total priority was given to the education of boys.  I was delighted to find a just translated from Yiddish short story first published in 1916, in Poland,  by Salomea Pearl, born in 1869 in Lomźa, Poland on the website of the Yiddish Book Center (you can read the story at the link above).

Tsipke is the maid of all work, close to a slave, in the home of a kosher butcher in a shtetl in Poland.  She works from day break to she falls asleep.  Everyone in the household, especially the butcher's wife is very abusive to Tsipke, striking her when the mood strikes her.  Unmarried childless women in poverty, especially those divorced by their husband as Tsipke was, were greatly looked down upon by married women.  The cruelty with which she is treated is very clearly depicted.  Even other house maids say she is abused.  A single man was often respected as a Torah scholar, whereas women did not go to Torah school.  Looking at Tsipke you cannot hardly tell if she is young or old.  She is terribly thin, her clothes are very worn out, she is filthy.  She also has to work in the butcher shop, carrying heavy buckets of water.  The real villain of the story is the butcher's wife.  The story has a pushing credibility but likable close I will leave untold.


Little is known about Salomea Perl (aka Perla); even the date of her death is lost. A brief entry in Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon is the only extant source. She was born in Łomża, Poland, in 1869, daughter of the Hebrew scholar Kalman Avigodor Perla, author of the well-known Oytser loshn khakhomim (Mishnaic Treasures), an alphabetical thesaurus of rabbinical sayings. She grew up in Lublin and eventually moved to Warsaw, where she ran a translation agency for many years. She completed a course of study at the Université de Génève in Switzerland and also studied in Paris and London.

Perl began writing in Polish at the beginning of the 1890s and published one book, Z pamiętnika młodej żydówki (From the Diary of a Young Jewish Woman), in 1895. Her short stories, also written in Polish and published in the reformist Polish Jewish journal Izraelita, caught the attention of the young belletrists active in the literary circles of the day. Among them was author and literary mentor I. L. Peretz, who encouraged her to write in Yiddish. She published several pieces in Peretz’s Perets’s bletlekh, but conflicts both with Peretz and in her personal life slowed her creative output; after that she published only sporadically in Yiddish periodicals. - from the website of The Yiddish Book Center.

The translator of this short story, Ruth Murphy, is preparing for publication a bilingual edition of all seven of Perl's short stories.  I look forward to this welcome addition to translated Yiddish literature.

Mel u



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