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FICTION : TEVYE THE DAIRYMAN AND THE RAILROAD STORIES by Sholem Aleichem (Schocken: $19.95; 350 pp.).

August 16, 1987|Janet Hadda

Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer have two things in common: More familiar to readers of English than any other Yiddish authors, they are also, arguably, the consummate storytellers of their native literature. But, while Singer has had the good fortune--and the canniness--to supervise translation of his work into English, Aleichem, who died in 1916, has achieved his mass recognition largely indirectly, through the immense success of "Fiddler on the Roof," a musical based on his episodic novel, "Tevye the Dairyman."

In fact, the character in that production bears as much resemblance to the Sholem Aleichem original as the musical itself does to one of Mozart's mature piano concerti. Both may be complex and delightful, but Tevye as Sholem Aleichem conceived of him is a man whose wit and banter only thinly protect a melancholy core, formed by countless specific sorrows.

Now, in "Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories," readers of English will have the opportunity to experience Tevye in a version as close to the Yiddish original as the vicissitudes of translation will allow. Through Hillel Halkin's felicitous rendition, Tevye once again dreams of fantastic fortune while living mired in poverty, hopes for joy from his daughters while watching them slip away into exile, conversion--and suicide.

FOR THE RECORD - 'Aleichem' Never Stands Alone
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 30, 1987 Home Edition Book Review Page 13 Book Review Desk 2 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
An error was made by the editors in Janet Hadda's review of "Tevye the Dairyman" (The Book Review, Aug 16). Author Sholom Aleichem was mistakenly referred to as "Aleichem" twice in the review; Sholom Aleichem is both a name and an expression in Yiddish that translates as "greetings to you" or as a hello to someone you haven't seen in a long time. The name Aleichem never appears on its own.

The first in a new series, Library of Yiddish Classics, this volume--which boasts an erudite introduction and helpful glossary and notes section--also contains Aleichem's "the Railroad Stories," tales that by their very setting depict the dislocation of Jewish life at the beginning of this century.

The Library of Yiddish Classics, edited by Ruth R. Wisse, will also contain volumes devoted to the work of I. L. Perets, Mendele Moykher Sforim, and Sh. Ansky, among others. If these are anything like the present contribution, the series will be invaluable.

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