Reading Adam Kirsch’s excellent piece in Tablet on Isaac Bashevis Singer reminded me of my all-time favorite short story, Cynthia Ozick’s “Envy, or Yiddish in America,” wherein the hilariously bitter Edelshtein is obsessed with Yankel Ostrover (a Singer-like figure), consumed by the fact that Ostrover has obtained mainstream adulation through having his Yiddish writing translated into English.
Having immersed myself almost exclusively in creative nonfiction for the past few years, I decided to look at the contemporary Jewish women writers whose work is part of the evolving Jewish American canon. Whose literary success would Edelshtein envy now? Specifically, which women would he would envy?
And how would they differ from the women writers who were Singer’s peers, like Ozick, whose characters mourn the death of Yiddish and whose Rosa wraps her baby Magda in a shawl to hide her in the camps. Or Grace Paley, whose immigrant characters weave in and out of assimilation and whose iron-strong renderings of immigrant speech often made the language itself a character.
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