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The Book of Paradise (1937)

de Itzik Manger

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753359,515 (4.08)12
"Electrifying...sparkles with Manger's song and poetry, and is brilliantly layered with literary and folkloric references." -- Tablet "There is something joyous about Manger's playful language." -- The Jewish Chronicle The raucously witty Yiddish classic about a Jewish Paradise afflicted by very human temptations and pains -- a delightful new translation perfect for fans of Michael Chabon Witty, playful and slyly profound, this story of a young angel expelled from Paradise is the only novel by one of the great Yiddish writers, which was written just before the outbreak of World War II. As a result of a crafty trick, the expelled angel retains the memory of his previous life when he's born as a Yiddish-fluent baby mortal on Earth. The humans around him plead for details of that other realm, but the Paradise of his mischievous stories is far from their expectations: a world of drunken angels, lewd patriarchs and the very same divisions and temptations that shape the human world. Published here in a lively new translation by Robert Adler Peckerar, The Book of Paradise is a comic masterpiece from poet-satirist Itzik Manger that irreverently blurs the boundaries between ancient and modern and sacred and profane, where the shtetl is heaven, and heaven is the shtetl.… (mais)
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The Publisher Says: The raucously witty Yiddish classic about a Jewish Paradise afflicted by very human temptations and pains—a delightful new translation perfect for fans of Michael Chabon

Witty, playful and slyly profound, this story of a young angel expelled from Paradise is the only novel by one of the great Yiddish writers, which was written just before the outbreak of World War II.

As a result of a crafty trick, the expelled angel retains the memory of his previous life when he’s born as a Yiddish-fluent baby mortal on Earth. The humans around him plead for details of that other realm, but the Paradise of his mischievous stories is far from their ideal—a world of drunken angels, lewd patriarchs and the very same divisions and temptations that shape the human world.

Published here in a lively new translation by Robert Adler Peckerar, The Book of Paradise is a comic masterpiece from poet-satirist Itzik Manger that irreverently blurs the boundaries between ancient and modern and sacred and profane, where the shtetl is heaven, and heaven is the shtetl.

I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU.

My Review
: A wild, funny, irreverent take on how power looks to the powerless, how memories of Home persist in the exile, how impossible it is to fit into pre-existing systems when you're not One Of Us. Manger's entire life, a Jew in the nexus of a Jew-hating country be it the Habsburg Empire, Romania, Ukraine, or Poland. Escaping certain death in France, another deeply anti-Semitic place, by running to the United States in 1939 before coming to rest in newly-founded Israel, where he died in 1969, a man without a homeland or a language to speak in. Yiddish culture, alive and vibrant in ancient Imperial Austrian lands, in independent Poland, Romania, Soviet Ukraine and their cousins in the wide-open United States, vanished entirely after the Holocaust. One of many, many crimes against humanity that occurred during that brutal time, it's one that most of us just don't even slightly realize took place. We don't, most of us, remember hearing elders speak Yiddish, don't recall the culture's last lingering gasps of the 1930s being part of even our parents' knowledge base. It was embarrassing, it was Foreign, it was lower-class. It was also the home of millions and millions of people whose passports, like Manger's, could be yanked by the issuing country because they simply didn't like the person holding it for being Other.

Does all this ring any bells yet?

Samuel Abba, as our kicked-out angel's human form is called, recalls his time in Paradise to the delight of his human mother, the fearful shushing of his human father, and the stern corrective admonitions of the Elders of their community to change his tune. Paradise can't be like that! Power dynamics are *good*for*us*! (The question of who exactly "us" consists of is answered thus.) Abusive parents, cheating lovers, Authority out of touch with lived reality, these are Earthly problems...these can't be your memories.

The standard invalidation of a thousand Nos, in other words, used to teach all of us to stay in our appointed places. Not "this isn't true" but "this can't be true," an entirely different assertion of the consensus world-view that QUILTBAG people know so very well. The translator's HUGE challenges in making the ideas of the storytelling format, harkening as it does back to the school of creating midrashim, as well as the very specific cultural usages like Abba's Paradise-bound friend "Little Pisser"'s name...literal translation of "pisher" but lacking the affectionate, dismissive, gentle put-down of the Yiddish term for a more biological and rude one...highlighted for me the sad, irreplaceable loss of the globe-spanning Yiddish culture. It's one thing to revive individual artists' work; the gestalt is still gone. Another black mark on the souls of the multinational fascist bastards whose tiny little hearts had no room for Others.

If you have even a particle of resistance to the recrudescing idea of All Must Be One, I can't encourage you strongly enough to read this story by a man who lost every single thing he'd grown up with, every sound out of his mother's mouth, the mouth itself, the music the poetry the food the films...all of it slaughtered and burned and vanished to serve the "ideal" of "One Fatherland"...and look around you at what's happening in our world today.

Resist. ( )
  richardderus | Dec 24, 2023 |
This was so delightful. I just want to hold it in my hands like a little baby. The Book of Paradise is a perfect little book that speaks to all the Bible stories I read and reread as a child. I haven't felt this innocent in a very long time.

On a critical level though, Manger has a lot to say about inequality, and it can be quite shocking. Reading about how horrible all the father-patriarchs are with their little peasant-angels toiling away for them can be hard to wrap your head around, but I think it's to remind us of the insidious and mundane power structures that surround us. All that in a kid's book!
( )
  Eavans | Feb 17, 2023 |
In English the title must be something like "Song of paradise"
One of the funniest books I ever read. It's by the (forgotten) Yiddish writer Itsik Manger.
A former boy-angel (shmuel abbe aberwo) is sent from heaven to earth. He is born in a poor jewish family. Being a babyboy, he's able to talk and walk. He tells his parents and the rabbi about heaven. He remembers everything, because the angel who pushed him over the edge of heaven did not snap his fingers in front of the boy-angel's nose (so that he would forget everything about heaven, thora and anything he learned) . The babyboy tells of his life in heavenly paradise. He played with other angel boys and girls, had a family, played tricks on his thora teachers and got into mischief. He describes an angel that is a total drunkard. In general the angels in heaven behave just like human beings on earth. The boy does not tell everything to his earthly parents and rabbi lest he'll shock them to much.
Please excuse my english. I hope you'll read it, it’s a very funny, entertaining and very readable book.
1 vote shoenra | Nov 15, 2013 |
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"Electrifying...sparkles with Manger's song and poetry, and is brilliantly layered with literary and folkloric references." -- Tablet "There is something joyous about Manger's playful language." -- The Jewish Chronicle The raucously witty Yiddish classic about a Jewish Paradise afflicted by very human temptations and pains -- a delightful new translation perfect for fans of Michael Chabon Witty, playful and slyly profound, this story of a young angel expelled from Paradise is the only novel by one of the great Yiddish writers, which was written just before the outbreak of World War II. As a result of a crafty trick, the expelled angel retains the memory of his previous life when he's born as a Yiddish-fluent baby mortal on Earth. The humans around him plead for details of that other realm, but the Paradise of his mischievous stories is far from their expectations: a world of drunken angels, lewd patriarchs and the very same divisions and temptations that shape the human world. Published here in a lively new translation by Robert Adler Peckerar, The Book of Paradise is a comic masterpiece from poet-satirist Itzik Manger that irreverently blurs the boundaries between ancient and modern and sacred and profane, where the shtetl is heaven, and heaven is the shtetl.

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