How the Wise Men Got to Chelm: The Life and Times of a Yiddish Folk Tradition

New York Univ. Oct. 2016. 336p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781479828449. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781479886654. LIT
The fictitious town of Chelm, where all the world's fools are said to have mistakenly fallen during creation, is an important part of Yiddish folk tradition and paradigm of folly literature. Von Bernuth (Germanic languages & director, Carolina Ctr. for Jewish Studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) delivers an effective discussion and detailed history of Chelm tales and folly literature, and the influences from Jewish and European culture, history, and identity on these traditions. Enhanced with Chelm stories, topics include Chelm in literature and on stage (e.g., Isaac Bashevis Singer's seminal stories), a history and meticulous discussion of folly literature (e.g., comparisons of the German collection of folly literature, Schildbürgerbuch, and its Yiddish translation, Shildburger bukh), connections between real-world and fictitious geography (e.g., similarities between tales of the foolish town Schildburg, and Schildau in Saxony), and more.
VERDICT Thorough and accessible, this book is a welcome addition to Jewish and European history, literature, and folklore collections and is recommended for both specialists and general readers.

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