Tevye the Dairyman, By Sholem Aleichem

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The Independent Culture

Fiddler on the Roof took Aleichem's yarn-spinning, world-weary milkman from the shtetls of 1890s Ukraine to a global audience, but the musical did little for the standing of this best-loved of Yiddish writers.

His virtuoso monologues soar way above the cosy folklore and endearing eccentricities of a lost Jewish world. This superb new translation (by Aliza Shevrin) deserves an ovation.

Beyond all the wit and charm, the volume (including Aleichem's stories of emigration to the US, Motil the Cantor's Son) depicts Tevye and his kin as torn souls in transit between worlds, not a timeless peasantry. In flight from Tsarist pogroms, Motil even has a stopover in Whitechapel: it smells of fried fish.