“Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories” by Blume Lempel— Looking at Society


Lempel, Blume. “Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories”, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Dryad Press and Mandel Vilar Press; Tra edition, 2016.

Looking at Society

Amos Lassen

Blume Lempel (1907–1999) was one of a small number of writers in the United States who wrote in Yiddish into the 1990s. Much of her writing is about the old world and the Holocaust but she did not limit herself to there topics. She also often wrote about the margins of society, and about subjects that other writers would not dare to deal with. She wrote with psychological acuity and she looked at erotic themes and gender relations. Her stories are modern and many consider themselves to be ahead of their time. She concentrated mainly on protagonists who were women. Borders and time are non issues and we see that these stories “move between present and past, Old World and New, dream and reality”.

This collection of stories has been translated into English for the first time and come from two books of stories that Lempel published while she was alive. A great deal of her work was published in Yiddish newspapers and remains uncollected. She worte about female desire, abortion, and incest at a time when these subjects were rarely spoken aloud about. She shares the thoughts and voices of some women who were elderly and ill and others who were on the margins of modern society and were rarely heard from.

The stories in this collection bring together the prewar East European past and the American present through personal memories and encounters with topics such as memory, religion, sexuality, race, feminism, good and evil and death. Her prose is lyrical and memory is one of the major factors in her writing.

The collection contains twenty-three stories in which author Lempel moves across multiple time zones and spheres. What is truly unique here is that her characters are well aware of what happened to the Jews of Europe and she has them engage in conversations. We are constantly aware of the power of memory, longing, and loss. We have a mother involved in an incestuous relationship with her blind son, a young woman lying on the table at an abortion clinic, a middle-aged woman with erotic imaginings as she gets ready for a blind date to cite just three.

Blume Lempel still to this day remains an unusual and important voice in post–World War II Yiddish letters who is now accessible to a wider audience.