Recently I had the great pleasure of reading a new release from Syracuse University Press’s “Library of Modern Jewish Literature” series: The Day My Mother Changed Her Name and Other Stories, by William D. Kaufman. As a bonus, one of the book’s two forewords is by Max Apple, whose work I’ve also discussed on this blog.
The second foreword to this unusual collection comes from Carol Montparker, to whom the book owes much. It was Montparker’s discovery of Kaufman and his stories–Kaufman attracted her attention when reading from his work to audiences at the assisted living residence where both he and Montparker’s mother were residing–that led to this publication. “I got it into my head that I must find a publisher for Bill Kaufman,” Montparker writes. And after making copies of Kaufman’s stories, researching publishers, and contacting editors on Kaufman’s behalf, Montparker struck gold with Syracuse. And in his tenth decade of life, William Kaufman published his first story collection.
Montparker believes that Kaufman’s writing is “not unlike I.B. Singer’s in its folkloric aspects, with a dash of S.J. Perelman’s ironic humor thrown in but even more charming and witty and altogether engaging.” I probably shouldn’t admit that I’ve read relatively little Singer or Perelman, but if they’re anything like Kaufman, I’ll have to remedy that soon!
Because these stories–most very brief and seemingly rooted in the author’s early twentieth-century childhood (the jacket also characterizes them as “semi-autobiographical works” and informs us that Kaufman is “the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and the Ukraine”)–are simply a pleasure to read. If you’re yearning to immerse yourself for a little while in a Yiddish-inflected America, to a world of observant Jews who send their children to cheder in the American Northeast, then you’ll find your place in these stories. And there’s a bonus: a glossary to help those of us who may have become too assimilated here in the United States to recognize every Hebrew or Yiddish word.
Most serious reviewers try to avoid words like “heartwarming,” but I can’t deny that these stories warmed my heart. They may well do the same for yours.