- Author: Dovid Bergelson
- Translator: Joseph Sherman
- Pages: lii & 240 pp.
- Published: 2000
- ISBN: 9780873527880 (Paperback)
“Even in English translation, Descent is a major contribution to Yiddish literature. Sherman enhances this edition with an excellent introductory essay and bibliography.”
“Dovid Bergelson’s Descent is one of the most striking products of a modernist literature seemingly lost in recent history. Translations of forward-looking Yiddish modernists like Sholem Asch and I. J. Singer once dominated the best-seller lists throughout the world. Joseph Sherman’s readable, accessible translation of Bergelson’s novel adds one more text to that canon and shows how valuable this canon is for any study of modern literature and culture, especially of the Jews of Europe.”
Descent, a novella published in 1920, is set against the background of Jewish life in Russia and Ukraine during the turbulent period leading up to the October Revolution of 1917, a period characterized by the rise of secularism, the rejection of old traditions, the alienation of intellectuals, and the attempt of different generations to find a place for themselves inside and out of the shtetl.
The novella centers on the mystery of the suicide of a young pharmacist in Rakitne, a provincial town. Did his death have anything to do with the two women who loved him? Was it the result of despair or an act of protest? And if protest, against what? His old friend seeks answers but finds none. The prose is immaculately crafted, the narrative indirect, and the mood poignant, dark, and disquieting.
Among Yiddish prose writers of the early twentieth century, Dovid Bergelson (1884–1952) was a unique modernist voice. Born in Russia, he lived and traveled in Europe and the United States, but he finally moved to Moscow: in a world of conflicting ideologies and political unrest, he threw his lot in with Communism and the Soviet Union. He was executed in a post–World War II Stalinist purge of Jews.