Mash, Yenta. “On the Landing: Stories by Yenta Mash”, translated by Ellen Cassedy”, Northern Illinois University Press, 2018.
Yenta Mash takes us through the various stages of a woman’s life in sixteen short stories that are available for the first time in English. We meet women “in transit”. They are on their way to somewhere from somewhere. Ellen Cassedy has translated these stories from the Yiddish and as I red I was quickly taken back to my youth and the stories we heard back then.
These are authentic stories of historical, physical and emotional survival. We enter a world that is no more and we do so through the eyes, the ears and the other senses of the feminine. The stories are related to the customs of the time that they took place before everything changed with the rise of anti-Semitism. The stories are set in burned out hometowns, the gulag, the new state of Israel, Moldova and they reflect the concept of the wandering Jew. Even though many are concerned with struggle, there is also humor and joy here. As Jews, we know about having to move and enduring exile and Mash fills in the details for readers today. This is literature of immigration, resilience and renewal.
Whenever I sit down to review a collection of stories, I debate with myself as to whether I should say something about each story or just give a review of the whole. Unlike others, I do not pick favorites but try to judge a work as it hits me as a whole. What hit me about “On the Landing” is its relevance today especially because the stories are written in a dead language.
Yenta Mash lived from 1922-2013 and her experiences include surviving Siberia and immigrating to Israel. Mash’s experiences mirror the experiences of the Jewish people and she fills in some of the blank spots. If Ellen Cassedy had not published her translations, there is the chance that some of what we read here, would have been totally erased from history. Mash is a survivor who brings
“humanity to underrepresented history.” She writes of betrayal and indifference, both divine and secular.
I often found myself crying and laughing in the same story and Mash gives us microcosms of the Diaspora.
She has made some very strong suggestions for the twentieth century but I wonder if she would have amended them for the 21st. She felt that prayer needed to be rebooted and remade in order to deal with the traumas of 20th century.
Most of us know little or nothing about Bessarabia where Marsh began her life but we see its importance to her and to the larger Jewish community. Marsh felt it was her responsibility to document what was going on in the world that was blown apart in the 1940s. Not only did she do so but added beauty to a very ugly time in history. I urge you to have a look at these stories. They will change the way you see life.