Fuse Book Review

“Vilna My Vilna” — A Moving Memorial to the Lodestar of Yiddish Culture

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In longing and loss, through the mouths of those he wished might speak still, Abraham Karpinowitz offers a salutation of the heart to his beloved city of Vilna.

The stories in Vilna My Vilna take the form of first-person narratives related in an artful, seemingly conversational style. They are each remembrances of Vilna while it was under Polish rule. While anti-Semitism rises there are poignant parallel growths in Jewish poverty and cultural life. The characters in Karpinowitz’s tales are blends of real and imagined figures, no doubt skillfully reshaped by the emery of memory. The confrontations, relationships, and events in these stories are infused with the energies of various ideologies. The underworld and the street are sites for colorful encounters that in less rigorous hands might have come off as stereotypical — but here they feel all too plausible. One is tempted to believe even the most causal (NOT ‘casual’) fiction.

In reality and myth Vilna, the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ has for hundreds of years been remembered as the center of Ashkenazic Jewish philosophy, aesthetics, and political inspiration. The aphorism was: ‘Go to Lodz for work, to Vilna for wisdom.’