Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The seven stories in this collection recapture a world that no longer exists—that of the pre-World War II, Eastern European Jewish shtetl (village or small town). It is the world that Isaac Bashevis Singer knew as a child, and his stories have their origins in the folklore and legends of the shtetl. Singer wrote them initially in Yiddish, the language of the shtetl, and then translated them into English with his editor, Elizabeth Shub. Award-winning illustrator Maurice Sendak also traces his family roots to the shtetl. Arthur Bell’s review of Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories notes how Sendak’s illustrations resemble early twentieth century photographs of New York City’s Lower East Side, many of whose inhabitants immigrated from Eastern Europe.

The book’s title story, “Zlateh the Goat,” takes place in a shtetl very much like those in which Singer lived as a small boy. A warm winter means bad business for Reuven the furrier, and his young son Aaron is sent to sell the family goat, Zlateh, to a butcher in town. A fierce snowstorm forces them off the path, and they seek shelter in a haystack, which furnishes them warmth and also nourishment. Zlateh eats the hay and feeds Aaron with its milk, and each has a way of comforting the other. On the third night, after the storm has ended, Aaron and Zlateh return home. There is no more talk of selling Zlateh, and, adding to the celebratory mood, the storm has brought colder weather and thus...

(The entire section is 534 words.)