Read The Family Mashber by Der Nister Online


First time in PaperbackThe Family Mashber is a protean work: a tale of a divided family and divided souls, a panoramic picture of an Eastern European town, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, an innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power, embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures draFirst time in PaperbackThe Family Mashber is a protean work: a tale of a divided family and divided souls, a panoramic picture of an Eastern European town, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, an innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power, embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures drawn from daily life and the depths of the unconscious. Above all, the book is an account of a world in crisis (in Hebrew, mashber means crisis), torn between the competing claims of family, community, business, politics, the individual conscience, and an elusive God. At the center of the book are three brothers: the businessman Moshe, at the height of his fortunes as the story begins, but whose luck takes a permanent turn for the worse; the religious seeker Luzi, who, for all his otherworldliness, finds himself ever more caught up in worldly affairs; and the idiot-savant Alter, whose reclusive existence is tortured by fear and sexual desire. The novel is also haunted by the enigmatic figure of Sruli Gol, a drunk, a profaner of sacred things, an outcast, who nonetheless finds his way through every door and may well hold the key to the brothers’ destinies....

Title : The Family Mashber
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781590172797
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 704 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Family Mashber Reviews

  • Frieda Vizel
    2019-03-21 13:35

    According to the back cover of this very (very very) long book, it is a "protean work*: a tale of a divided family and divided souls, a panoramic picture of an Eastern European town**, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, an innovative fusion of modernist art*** and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor**** and mounting tragic power, embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures drawn from... the depth of the unconscious*****." I have to say, the book is true to the description. Although what in the name of god this description actually means and what in the world a bizarre and confused tale like this tells, I cannot tell you. An allegory from the depth of unconscious? Mounting tragic power? Weird humor? Please, someone enlighten me. The book was weird indeed, but that wasn't humorous to me. Maybe it's my own lack of appreciation for symbolism. I tend to prefer realistic fiction so I'm prone to dislike a tome like this that isn't grounded in reality, has no direction, is extremely wordy and drawn out and simply does not engage. Generally, I enjoy anything that portrays Eastern European Jewish life pre WWII. But this wasn't a book worth spending 10+ hours on. Protean work? More like mumble jumble.---*I looked it up for you. A protean work -- a new kind of literary acclaim -- is apparently "Tending or able to change frequently or easily". Which is what you want in your books.** If by that you mean many paragraphs devoted to: "we shall now devote some time to describe X dining room table", and spend a few pages in inconsequential detail.*** huh?**** what?***** Ohhh kay.

    2019-04-12 10:38

    Imagine a trilogy written in Yiddish in the Soviet Union at the height of the Stalinist Era, a trilogy whose final third disappeared with the author, Pinhas Kahanovich (1884-1950) being arrested and dying in a prison hospital. Imagine a saga of Dostoyevskian proportions, and also filled with Kabbalistic imagery, foretastes of magic realism, and Socialist Realism (both to placate the censors and to throw them off).Kahanovich adopted Der Nister as his pen-name early in his career, a calque of Yiddish and Hebrew that translates as "the Hidden One."Mashber means "crisis" in Hebrew, and in Kahanovich's novel it is the name of a well-to-do family in "N," a provincial Ukrainian town (probably modeled after his native Berdichev) circa 1870. The novel begins with the family's business affairs at their best but then takes a nasty turn until Moshe Mashber, the pater familias, is bankrupted and thrown into prison."N" is a town filled with rich Jews and poor (mostly poor), with Ukrainian peasants, Russian officials, and Polish nobility fallen on hard times.The family's saga is told against a broad spectrum that made up Jewish society in the Ukraine 125 years ago, from the scholarly to the ignoramus, the virtuous to the scoundrel, the pious to the freethinker.Put aside any romantic notions a la Fiddler on the Roof.(An aside: forty years ago my wife and their sister took their father to see the movie Fiddler on the Roof because they thought it might remind him of his childhood in the Ukraine at the beginning of the last century. Minutes after the movie began he walked out. He told me that the movie omitted the mud, the dirt, the stench, and the grinding poverty. Kahanovich missed none of it.)Leonard Wolf (not to be confounded with Virginia's husband) has prepared an elegant and flowing translation of the original Yiddish. (I confess to having stolen glances at the original from time to time to see what the author had originally written.)I now intend to go back and try my hand at the original, knowing full well in advance that I may get the denotation but miss a good deal of the connotation.This English translation first appeared twenty years ago. The New York Review of Books merits thanks for having brought it back into print in its Classics series.

  • Mindy
    2019-04-17 15:38

    The author, Dara Horn, in her book, THE WORLD TO COME, introduced me to the author, Der Nister (Pinchas Kahanovitch's pen name), and I'm so glad she did! A mid-19th century family and societal saga written in Russia in Yiddish (now translated) by a well-known author who knew Chagall and was murdered by Stalin, the book opens up for the reader a whole world that no longer exists. Characters both strong and weak, religious and secular, proud and humble; a world that ceased existing first under the Nazis, and later under the Soviets. But the Mashber family---Moshe, Gittel, Luzi, Alter, etc.---and their community continue to thrive colorfully in the pages of this masterpiece, a third part of which may still be secreted somewhere in the former Soviet Union. A true gift from the past!

  • Chrissie
    2019-03-27 14:20

    NO SPOILERSHaving struggled through 152 pages, I am giving up. I cannot feel close to any of the numerous characters. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, but too much so for my taste. I agree that after reading a page or two describing a person's clothes, how they are put on, how clean they are, what buttons are buttoned , body characteristics such as slopping shoulders, uneven walk, facial details including the color of the complexion, the shape of the eyebrows, whether he laughs or pouts or squints and how the person relates to his surroundings and friends, you do picture the character standing there befor you. Nevertheless, they do not move me. I do not like or dislike them. I cannot keep track of their names. This is not enjoyable for me. I give up. My original comparison to Bruegel's paintings hold. Do you feel compassion, understanding or sympathy for the numerous figures depicted in a Bruegel painting? No, although it is fun to look at. But to read a book like this is too much. It is like staring at one of the figures on the canvas for an hour. And then you start on the next figure.....100pages into the novel: The very best way of describing this book is to ask you to think of a Bruegal painting. Go look at one. They are filled with tons of people, all doing different things. Look at each individual, their clothes, their expressions, what they are doing, and then you have a feeling for the town, for the atmosphere of the place. Well this book is exactly the same. Everything is described in careful, exact detail. The people, their expressions, the food on the table, the singing, the dancing, the lighting, even down to the strange behavior of a caretaker's dog. I am not going to give a quote b/c it would need to be quite lengthy. Go instead to Amazon and look indide the book. Read a few pages, and you will understand. This is how the book is written. Every page is like the few you read at Amazon. This Russian author is magically drawing for his readers the life of the Jews in a Ukranian provincial town toward the end of the 1800s. It is not necessarily an easy read. The names are hard for me to remember - Moshe and Gitl aren't so difficult, but there are many more such as Mayerl, Yehudis, Reb Vehlednik, Reb Nakhman, Liber Meyer, Itziki Tchitchaben.... I am just telling you what you can expect!Before starting the book: Having read quite a while ago Dara Horn's The World to Come, I was introduced to the famed Yiddish writer, pen-named Der Nister, the author of this book. Der Nister plays a very central role in Horn's book. I simply had read this book too, and I liked the text shown at Amazzon. I will have to check out other authors too. Those such as Sholem Aleichem and L. L. Peretz, but I will start here.

  • Kevin
    2019-03-21 14:35

    This book, not only because of its length, took me a long time to read, a longer time than other books of the same length, even histories. How did I remain interested in the book while also falling asleep during the middle of some of its sentences? Partly because this is a book that should be read aloud. The narrative voice changes your perceptions of the descriptions. It is the voice of someone with an evocative memory of the places and times described, and aware that you can only be connected to them by your curiosity.This is now, without doubt, one of my favorite family sagas. It has the atmosphere of Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March but adds intelligent characters with the constant personal distortions of their imaginations, all told by a narrator who continues to address you, and it seems, shrug.

  • Arlo
    2019-04-09 11:41

    Being conscious that this was written under communist censorship-there are glaring instances of the author appeasing the censors. That said, this is a masterpiece. If you are drawn to this book, I assume you are familiar with Eastern Jewish history. If not,you may not appreciate the characters and their depictions, the mysticism and the nuances in the story and stories with in. Mashber means crisis in Hebrew and this is truly a family of 3 brothers that are all subject to "crisis"..

  • Bill Paterson
    2019-04-06 17:42

    When I worked with Steven on a Yiddish Lit class, this was the gem. Of all the writing on shtetl life that we discussed, this was, perhaps, the best. Der Nister adds a mystical touch to his religious characters as well as a harsh examination of desperate people in an unforgiving world.

  • Gutman
    2019-04-03 16:39

    I must say that I was skeptical. The Family Mashber (the title itself provides the coming attractions, as "Mashber" is Hebrew for "crisis") looked to me to be just another, relatively run-of-the-mill, multi-generational saga with Jewish characters and a mid-nineteenth century flavor. Sure, I figured that there would be interesting depictions of the Shtetl and the period, but I wasn't sure that it would be anything that I hadn't heard or read before. I also wasn't so sure that I would find myself relating to the views of Der Nister, nor was I sure that it was worth the 700 odd pages. I was pleasantly surprised.That's not to say that there weren't elements that I didn't really go for, and I am still a little bit baffled by the somewhat adolescent attitudes (which is perhaps not so uncommon among Yiddish writing) -- for example, the multiple occasions that he discusses the chest size of various women? -- but everything does have has its place and relevance. Nevertheless, with all that said, I do think that the book is a masterpiece.The book paints a vivid picture of an idealistic man (Der Nister) with a strong spiritual side, thoroughly disgusted by the establishment. In this volume are two of the three books (the third is unfortunately lost), and the first few hundred pages develop the characters, in detail, and at great length. For me, it took about 500 pages until the story got going, when we reach one of the most powerful confrontations you can ever hope to read. Until that point, the author describes the Mashber family and their Chassidically inclined Ukrainian community. Personally, I think all the characters in the story reflect the various voices that we all have mumbling in our heads as well as in our communities, but I'll leave that for you to decide on your own.The main character, Moshe Mashber, is a bourgeois ("baal-habateshe") Jew. He runs a successful money lending business, and he's a pragmatist. In the fairly segregated and class-conscious Shtetl, he maintains a comfortable position within the community's upper class, and is a decent, average, fellow who – like many of the decent folks who play by the establishment's rules – isn't really a bad guy. But, although he surely gives his share charity and wishes no one any harm, he remains cold, and for the most part indifferent, to the struggles of those on the other side of the tracks. His position turns out to be quite precarious in the boom and bust economy of the day, and it turns out that his end is near (not that the establishment that he supports and is a part of really cares). In Moshe I see the average guy; he is almost everywhere in our society.His brother Luzi Mashber is the idealist. Somewhat of an ascetic and a mystic, he is an elder chossid. Charismatic and sincere, he represents the ideals that the Chassidic world theoretically puts on a pedestal. Soon enough, though, we find that the idealist and the establishment cannot peacefully coexist, as the establishment is a ruthless, cold, corrupt and often wicked machine. People may live superficially pious lives, but they, as part of the establishment, crush everything in their way…often just because they can. For a long time Luzi lives parallel to the establishment. He is neither part of, or especially against it. But as one who seeks truth, Luzi eventually ends up at odds with the establishment, and once he abandons the establishment completely for the fringe, he becomes public enemy to even the bottom of the establishment community (who must find someone to vent their frustrations on). Interestingly, the story points out the fascinating (maybe it shouldn't be so surprising?) reality that the Breslover Chassidim of the day (of which Luzi has become one – as did Der Nister's brother) end up with a shared place and commonality with the enlightened Maskilim. As both the Breslover and the maskil live outside the establishment, and reject it, they are both despised and equally opposed, which brings them somewhat together – even though they are diametrically opposed philosophically (Breslover simple faith vs. the Maskil's enlightened rationalism) – as they share their recognition of the corrupted main-stream and seek an alternative. Luzi is portrayed as the hero, the one with the intestinal fortitude, the inspiration to many. But what made him real and appealing to me, was that he also has his demons, his doubts, his uncertainties. He is not really sure of himself and what it is that drives him. It was for that reason that I wasn't able to truly relate to him until I got towards the end of the book. There is another brother who suffers from a severe condition, affecting his mental and physical state and relegating him to the attic. He appears suddenly from time to time, usually at a very important moment. People who suffer from various forms of madness show up in many Yiddish writings, so it's not surprising to find such a character here, but that's a whole 'nother conversation. Sruli is an enigma. I don't know that there are such people. Indeed, he too, is a character that exists in many a story: The man who seems to have nothing, but in truth has everything. The poor man who is really rich. The jerk that is really kind. The cynic that is truly idealistic. The scoffer who truly believes. He sees through everyone's charade, and it is Sruly that drives the story; without him there really is no story. Sruly is immediately drawn to Luzi, and as his self-appointed assistant, he helps Luzi recognize the need to sever ties to the establishment. He and Luzi become inseparable as Der Nister takes the two people that he wants you to think are complete opposites and shows you that they are almost the same. As I said before, their confrontation about 500 pages into the book is truly a classic and a turning point.Yona is the villain; he provides muscle for the establishment. He's no saint, but as a devotee of and believer in the establishment he has a respectable place. He may be far from representative of the establishment's stated values, but his loyalty and defense of the establishment allows him to sit with the elite and maintain their respect. To Der Nister this is ultimate evil, and he plays him up. Unfortunately, behavior like Yona's is far too easy to find.Reb Mikhel is my favorite character. R' Mikhel is (to me) the most real character in the story – and his demons pursue him relentlessly to his grave. He reminded me of Nathanial Hawthorne's Tale of Young Goodman Brown, as a man who constantly struggles with his uncertainly. He is intelligent, learned, sincere…and tormented. He is poor and abused by the establishment. He struggles to find his place and be true to himself. But his struggles leave him with no peace with the establishment, and ultimately his attempts at finding his place fail as he resigns (at the first opportunity) his post as leader of the Breslover Chassidim (which he held as a way of battling his doubts). Once he is freed from responsibilities to the group (unfortunately for his family) he lashes out at the establishment, and their ruthlessness is turned to R' Mikhel who ends up with the wrath of the entire establishment focused on him, bringing him to his death (Sruli arranges a decent life for R' Mikhel's wife & children). R' Mikhel's episode leads to the establishment's blood-lust to focus on Luzi and the ultimate departure of Sruli and Luzi from town and towards a life on the road.I won't go into all the characters, and there is plenty more to say (you'd hope so with so many pages), but the messages were pretty strong. The evils of the Bourgeoisie, the callous cruelty and corruption of the establishment, the frustration caused by the neo-feudalistic class system, and the rigid rules imposed by the powers that be, are all themes played heavily by socialist and communist thinkers; no doubt Der Nister's sentiments were with them. It also does a pretty good job of revealing what caused so many of the Jewish youth to become communists and explains their thorough dislike for the establishment Orthodoxy and its leaders. But in the story it is not even the Maskil that wins the day (although he is a sympathetic character), but it is the spiritualist, the mystic, the true idealist that walked off into the sunset, and I felt prompted, even compelled, to cheer.

  • Edwin Lang
    2019-04-19 17:28

    This is a breath-taking story of a society in dissolution. Ostensibly it is about the Mashber family, whose patriarch’s - a financier and money-lender - through a large loan gone bad and the cascading effect of that, finances are in serious decline. The story takes place among ritualistic devout Jews living in a large suburb of Berdichev, Ukraine. While the characterizations are vivid there is a sense that they are dead men walking, in the sense that any value and meaning that life once had was gone, any desire for or relationship to God or goodness absent, any compassion for the poor (of which there seemed many in Berdichev) missing and devoid of any love for anything but money and power. Mashber’s looming bankruptcy is a metaphor for that of the entire community. Money is at the center of this story. And fate uses that obsession clinging to a few pieces of silver – the easier way to capture a raccoon is to insert an immovably shiny object in a trap to which it’ll take an obsessive and fatal ownership – to change the fortunes of the Mashber family and the city itself, in the grip of moral and spiritual dissolution and seeking to mitigate this through severe religious conformity and dogma and, ironically as this is taking place while Europe is embracing the Enlightenment, finding solace in superstition. I found this book though to be a very difficult read. While I was riveted by the story and characterizations it was nonetheless very challenging: I thought the translation by Leonard Wolf excellent and perhaps it was simply the Yiddish thought. I liked though what the author had to say, how he made all the characters seem alive and interesting, and especially Sruli Gol who at some level seemed the hero. There was an opinion piece in today’s newspaper that posited that the Men (and women) in Mad Men are gone, that today it’s being nice – at least in the Western world I suppose – that is mandated, gentlemen and gentle woman all. Personally I don’t believe this to be true, that it’s all a facade, that the recklessness, the drinking, the looming 4% among us who are psychopaths, the growing narcissism, suggests other forces at play. It is instructive that the hero in The Family Mashber is Sruli Gol. David Malouf says that Sruli represents everything that is most original and most disruptive – and I would add, human and humane too: Sruli Gol is “the least pious character in the book where everyone, even the thugs, is pious to a point where even piety seems suspect (take today our evangelistic and deeply religious but heartless Tea party or Albertan conservatives); he is clown, drunk, sinner and blasphemer; a parasite at rich men’s tables, but also their scourge; a protector of the poor, the weak, the insulted and the injured’ and yet he possessed the capacity to be solemn and elevated. One has the sense that not only we readers but God himself is pleased with Sruli Gol. Sruli is a man’s man. The author himself seemed like a fascinating man. Someone gripped in a passionate and profound respect for Yiddish literature and an acolyte of its resurgence in the brief period between the twentieth century World wars during the renaissance in Russian literature. He seemed though to be New Age, immersed in the Kabbalistic and occult traditions which probably added to the complexity of his thought. As I was reading the book I was surprised and tremendously impressed that the modern Jewish community sponsored its republication and translation because it so devastatingly described the poverty of the religious practices in Berdichev, perhaps everywhere. The author died as a man should, as a prophet must, alone and abandoned in a Soviet prison hospital. Edwin

  • Ben
    2019-04-17 15:47

    Or, further, he would suddenly take on a quarrel with the greatest and most famous of the town's rabbis over a matter of ritual purity put to the rabbi by some poor woman. The matter at issue was some dish the poor woman had cooked for a sick person in the family, and when the rabbi prevailed and declared that the food was ritually unclean and could not be eaten, then Sruli would ask the woman who was already leaving... where she lived. And very soon after he would show up at her door bringing another and more costly repast. And he would say that the rabbi had sent the food to replace what had been declared unclean, but the truth was that he had himself taken the food from the kitchen of the rabbi's wife, taking it out of her hands by force, shouting grossly at her that the law was shit, and that it would do the rabbi no harm to miss a meal, let him, too, be deprived of something once in a while for the sake of the law. There, then, one of his eccentricities. And now, the other. On the very same day he found money somewhere or other and brought the price of the meal he had taken from her to the rabbi's wife and gave it to her with a gracious "Thank you." "And stop being a rabbi's wife," he called scornfully back at her as he was leaving.

  • Jonathan W.
    2019-03-24 11:27

    Although it is impossible to expand the canon of world literature wide enough to include every deserving author, Der Nister is fully deserving of being read more widely. Yiddish literature includes many well written novels, although far too few are available in translation, but The Family Mashber represents something unique to Yiddish literature. Although unfinished, The Family Mashber is on par with other "epic" novels like War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. Der Nister forms complete characters- despite the heavy narrative voice, the characters always appear autonomous of the narrative and author and will take a lifetime to forget. The symbolism of the novel is difficult to penetrate, but incredibly rich. The novel also succeeds in recreating a time in place better than any book I have ever read.

  • Jaime Fernandez
    2019-04-09 13:40

    3 y medio. Libro redondo en el sentido que crea un universo propio, con un dibujo psicologico de los personajes muy acertado y una evolución muy estudiada así comola estructura Penaliza que el libro se hace moroso a veces.

  • Patrizia
    2019-04-15 10:27

    A masterpiece in yiddish literature

  • Laura
    2019-03-29 14:45

    Although this book was engrossing, I have to put it aside for right now, as it makes me too anxious to read at the moment (for reasons I won't get into here). So it goes back into the "to-read" pile.

  • Angela Woodward
    2019-04-02 11:43

    The Family Mashber centers on two brothers in a town in the Russian part of Poland in the 19th century. Its author, who goes by the pen name Der Nister, began by writing mystical stories, but turned to this more or less realistic mode as his earlier work was frowned upon. The Family Mashber is enormously detailed in its telling, with every item of clothing and dish on the table described in a way that brings a vanished world to life. He also imbues his story with a magical undercurrent, as the mystical beliefs of one of the protagonists and many of the townspeople make themselves felt. The narrative plunges towards disaster. Moshe Mashber, the middle brother of the Mashber family, is an upstanding citizen, a wealthy businessman, head of a large and happy household. His esteemed elder brother Luzi comes to visit, and announces that he has taken up with the Bratslaver cult, Jews who hold unorthodox ideas and who forego work in order to spend their days worshipping. All the Bratslavers are the most miserably poor imaginable. A huge porter stops working, stops eating, and stops caring for his family, until he's barely able to lift a spoon. The teacher Mikyl Buyker loses all his pupils, as every family spurns him. His starving, freezing children then die. Luzi on the other hand is tall, good looking, charming and wise. Everyone loves and admires him. His brother can't understand why he's taken up with the doomed Bratslavers. Over the course of a year, a poor harvest and the cruel, selfish actions of the Polish nobility crash the town's economy, and Moshe Mashber loses everything he had. Luzi's piety seems outrageous, as he won't help his brother's family. And yet Luzi still attracts people to him, and Moshe's own actions have a different aura of goodness. Perhaps most attractive in this book are the myriad underworld characters, such as Schmulikl Fist, a local enforcer. The novel pays equal attention to the poor as to the wealthy, seemingly judging no one, but witnessing the decline of this society. Der Nister, like other Yiddish writers, was imprisoned by the Soviets and died in a prison hospital. A last third of The Family Mashber remains hidden.