Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although best known for his short stories—especially the quintessential tale “Bontsha the Silent”—Isaac Peretz was a noted playwright, poet, essayist, and ideologue in two languages. He wrote prolifically in Hebrew and Yiddish, and only the novel form escaped his sustained attack. In 1888, his mock-heroic poem Monish (1888), published under the auspices of Sholom Aleichem, demonstrated his ability to express themes from Jewish life with the sophistication derived from secular literary pursuits. His symbolic dramas, such as Baynakht oyfn altn mark (1907; night in the old marketplace), provided further proof of his ability to harmonize diverse traditions. In Warsaw, he published a literary almanac, the first volume of which was distinguished by what he called “Travel Pictures” delineating shtetl life. In the 1890’s, Peretz contributed to New York Yiddish journals many poems and stories that were regarded as anticlerical and politically subversive. A subsequent change of heart led him to East European mystical lore, and his writings assumed the manner of Hasidic monologues, symbolic romances, and folkloric sketches. In allegories sometimes defying classification, he sought to penetrate the social concerns of his time, especially those impinging on international Jewish life. His writings are surviving testimony to his broad interests, which encompassed history, science, social welfare, and Jewish national survival.