Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

In 1938, Itzik Manger published in the Warsaw Yiddish press his Noente Geshtaltn (intimate figures), a newspaper series of bittersweet, fictionalized portraits of twenty forerunners of Yiddish poetry: troubadours, rhyming wedding jesters, itinerant actors and writers of the nineteenth century and earlier. These popular artists expressed themselves in Yiddish when it was considered, even by its speakers, a language fit not for literature but for low-class entertainment. They were Manger’s first heroes; from their earthy folk style, he learned the art of simplicity.

Manger’s only novel, Dos Bukh fun Gan-Eden (1939; The Book of Paradise, 1965), is a fantasy set in Paradise—a humorous vision of the afterlife in which familiar human weaknesses and pains persist. In The Book of Paradise, fantasy is the everyday norm, and the wrinkles are provided by earthly reality: the reality of human nature and the folkways of the Eastern European Jewish community. In Manger’s novel, Yiddish culture—its folklore, faith, parochialism, and beauty—is celebrated, satirized, and memorialized. The Book of Paradise was published in Warsaw in August, 1939, and nearly the entire edition was destroyed at the printer’s a month later by the invading German army. Only a handful of review copies mailed to America survived.

Although Manger’s poetry places him in the line of the English and German Romantics and the...

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