The Wall Street Journal published one of the very few, I’m sure, pieces in its history devoted to an out-of-print and neglected book recently. Titled “A Yiddish Novel With Tolstoyan Sweep,” the piece, by Joseph Epstein, describes the novel by the brother of the more famous Isaac Bashevis Singer, as “the best Russian novel ever written in Yiddish.” Epstein, former editor of the American Scholar and one of the best essayists of the last forty years, calls The Brothers Ashkenazi I. J. Singer’s best-known work–which tells you how well the rest of his oeuvre is faring these days. Depicting the contrasting careers of two Jewish brothers attempting to get ahead in the Russian Pale of Settlement before the First World War. It ends with a horrific pogrom that leaves the city of Lodz, in Singer’s words, “like a limb torn from a body that no longer sustained it. It quivered momentarily in its death throes as maggots crawled over it, draining its remaining juices.” Such, he leads us to believe, is the fate of a city that “knew that with money you could buy anything.”
Although Singer’s characters do not find the same solace in religion as many in his brother’s works do, the novel is not all bleakness and despair. Still, Epstein credits I. J. Singer for foregoing “a happy ending to render instead a just one.” One hopes this long-out-of-print novel finds some interest among today’s publishers through this rare mention of a neglected book in such a prominent outlet as the Wall Street Journal.