Miles's Reviews > Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories

Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories by Sholem Aleichem
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Jun 05, 12

Read in June, 2012

So who is this Shalom Aleichem and how dare he rip off Fiddler on the Roof? Couldn't he at least come up with some original material?

What?! Oh. I see. I'm being told that... I understand.

If you read "Today's Children" and a few other stories in this volume you'll get the core stories of Fiddler on the Roof with lots of extra details. It's great! Tevye in the original Shalom Aleichem (pen name of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich) has a bit more vinegar, drinks a good bit more, and throws around the nonsense Talmud with even greater abandon than he does on film. He's dirtier, and poorer too. But the spirit that actor Chaim Topol brought to the film's character is still spot on. Shalom Aleichem's Tevye is a man with a good heart and a world of troubles, who will endure this world's trials with sharp humor. The words he speaks and the attitudes he cultivates are his survival secret and Shalom Aleichem's magic. Was Shalom Aleichem the "Jewish Mark Twain"? Yeah, I think it fits.

Sometimes the details are almost too much. I imagine that the endless detail of the originals was a valued part of the experience in 1890 or 1900 when first published. The same leisurely pace in 2012 is occasionally tiresome. I didn't read every story, or even every word of some of the stories that I did read, but I enjoyed the experience. Like any American Jew who has seen Fiddler on the Roof more than once, and who has never read much of Shalom Aleichem, I could only read these stories with the film version playing in my mind, helplessly noticing when the text overlapped the film (really, vice versa), and when it ran off in its own playful direction.

Watching the hash Tevye makes of Hebrew phrases (presented in transliteration) is one of the special delights for those who know a little Hebrew, but not being able to do so takes away little from the overall pleasure. Having recently re-watched Fiddler on the Roof, now a basic cultural artifact of American Jewish life, with my children it was a delight to return to the source material and experience Shalom Aleichem's world in three dimensions and high definition.
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