Stempenyu by Sholem Aleichem, Hannah Berman
Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In The Art of the Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time. The first work of Sholom Aleichem's to be translated into English--this long out-of-print translation is the only one ever done under Aleichem's personal supervision--Stempenyu is a prime example of the author's hallmark traits: his antic and often sardonic sense of humor, his whip-smart dialogue, his workaday mysticism, and his historic documentation of shtetl life. Held recently by scholars to be the story that inspired Marc Chagall's "Fiddler on the Roof" painting (which in turn inspired the play that was subsequently based on Aleichem's Tevye stories, not this novella), Stempenyu is the hysterical story of a young village girl who falls for a wildly popular klezmer fiddler--a character based upon an actual Yiddish musician whose fame set off a kind of pop hysteria in the shtetl. Thus the story, in this contemporaneous "authorized" translation, is a wonderful introduction to Aleichem's work as he wanted it read, not to mention to the unique palaver of a nineteenth-century Yiddish rock star.