On Foreign Soil – Yiddish/English Novel

“On Foreign Soil” is the book that starts in English and turns to Yiddish. Based on the beautifully-written Yiddish-language memoirs of Falk Zolf, this book consists of one-hundred and thirty-two charming and emotion-packed vignettes which encapsulate the Jewish experience of the first quarter of the twentieth century: the simple life of the traditional shtetl, the growing conflict between the traditional vs. the modern lifestyle, the outbreak of the First World War, the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Jewish world, the post-war trauma of Jewish reconstruction in Eastern Europe, and finally emigration to the New World.

Each story in this collection is told twice: once in English, and once in a mixture of English and Yiddish. The early sections include ten to twenty percent Yiddish content; this increased gradually throughout the book, until the very last chapter is told entirely in Yiddish. In this way, the reader learns to read Yiddish as he goes along! Each chapter is followed by a detailed summary in English, so the reader can go back and identify words or phrases that he didn’t understand the first time through.

“On Foreign Soil” is an invaluable addition to any collection of Judaica. It provides the modern reader with an unprecedented opportunity to re-connect in a meaningful way with the disappearing heritage that is the Yiddish language. At the same time, through the memoirs of one man, it tells the story of the Jewish people in a way that no other book of its period comes close to matching.

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