“The Little Red Umbrella,” translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, appeared in The Brooklyn Rail: In Translation (Brooklyn, NY: April 2016
“She recalled going to hear T.S. Eliot by herself, without either female or male companions. When she entered the auditorium, all the seats were already taken. Standing room was also limited. Someone stepped on the foot she had recently sprained. The wound appeared to be bleeding, but removing the shoe was not an option. People were packed together so tightly that she was barely able to free herself from the curious hand groping under her coat. The tension in the auditorium was overpowering. When the poet finally stood up and began to read, something in her tore. Over the heads of the audience, the gaunt creator of “The Waste Land” reached her and transformed her into a kind of exotic wild animal, from whose depths emerged a hysterical scream followed by a harsh hiccup. After that incident, she stopped attending poetry readings. The shame of being led from the auditorium stayed with her for many years. Janet now thought that had it not been for that incident, she herself might have written poetry. Instead of writing, she married, raised children, and then lived alone —one more widow on the flooded market. Dilettantes did happen by to share the double bed. They came and went like stars in the night: a washed-up actor, a sock manufacturer, a card player, a man who had left his wife and child to travel around the world in disguise. The rendezvous with the poet came like a jolt from the very heart of life, awakening the butterflies from their lethargic dozing. White silk wings hovered in the air.”- from “The Little Red Umbrella”
This story focuses on the blind date of a fifty year old Jewish widow and poet, a Holocaust survivor. She first caught his eye at a Hanukkah party, he did not meet her there and now he has called to invite her for a dinner date. He tells her on the phone he is a poet. He tells her he will take her to a French restaurant.
Her mind wanders over the time she heard T. S. Eliot lecture. I think memories of “The Waste Land” push thoughts of world history. She meets the poet, the idea was she would be carrying a red umbrella in case he does not recognise her. He does not meet her expectations, she was anticipating a man of Byronic good looks. He is a Holocaust survivor, clearly Jewish. He briefly alludes to his status. It turns out he will take her to a Hungarian restaurant he owns which is in a building he also owns. She feels almost obligated to the poet.
This is a very good post Holocaust story. It can be read in the pictured collection.
Yiddish did not die In The Holocaust. There are few languages so much cherished, especially a language spoken as a first language only by small groups. There is intense scholarly study of Yiddish literature. The attack on The Yiddish speakers of Europe by The Nazis failed. It was an attack on a people who cherished Reading, Books, Knowledge as intrinsic goods.
Blume Lempel was born in the Ukraine in 1907. In 1929 she moved to Paris to be with her brother. She loved Paris, married there, and in 1939 she and her husband moved to Long Island, New York. She stayed there until her death in 1999. She had three children and began to write short stories in Yiddish, was widely published and won many awards. She was fluent in English, French, and had a working knowledge of Russian. She choice to write in Yiddish to speak for those lost in the Holocaust and to defy those who wanted the language wiped out. I am so glad I have found this collection and I thank the translators for this labor of love.