Jacob Glatstein

The Glatstein Chronicles, translated by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman, with an introduction by Ruth Wisse (White Goat Press, 2023)

first-rate reportage and a fever dream of Europe on the brink of disaster.
Los Angeles Review of Books

This seminal American work from the Yiddish literary canon, in a restored English edition, offers the luminous narrative of the author’s journey home to his Polish birthplace. The Glatstein Chronicles is at once insightful reportage of the year after Hitler came to power, a fascinating reflection by a leading intellectual on contemporary culture and events, and the closest we have to a memoir by the boy from Lublin, Poland, who became one of the finest poets of the twentieth century.

In 1934, with World War II on the horizon, Jacob Glatstein (1896–1971) traveled from his home in America to his native Poland to visit his dying mother. One of the foremost Yiddish poets of the day, he used his journey as the basis for two autobiographical novellas, together known as The Glatstein Chronicles, in which he intertwines childhood memories with observations of growing anti-Semitism in Europe.

Glatstein’s accounts “stretch like a tightrope across a chasm,” writes the preeminent Yiddish scholar Ruth Wisse in the Introduction. In Book One, “Homeward Bound,” the narrator, Yash, recounts his voyage to his birthplace in Poland and describes the array of international travelers he meets along the way. Book Two, “Homecoming at Twilight,” resumes after his mother’s funeral and ends with Yash’s impending return to the United States, a Jew with an American passport who recognizes the ominous history he is traveling.

What the Critics Say

"Glatstein’s prose indeed captures a world on the brink of catastrophe [...] through a series of encounters....Glatstein has left us a portrait of a world in its twilight years, unvarnished."
—Mark Glanville, The Jewish Chronicle

"Reading The Glatstein Chronicles is itself an act of mourning, and the editor and translators must have endured this grief all the more acutely. The translation is rendered magnificently, and Wisse and the translators [...] have taken great pains to produce the illusion that we are reading this masterpiece as the author wrote it."
—Dara Horn, Jewish Review of Books

"the poet's travel narrative is both first-rate reportage and a fever dream of Europe on the brink of disaster. Why have we never heard of Jacob Glatstein, a modernist whose prose is as mordantly humorous as Philip Roth, as eerie as Kafka, as weighty as Bellow? The answer is obvious: Glatstein wrote in Yiddish, and as Ruth Wisse, the editor of this volume, reminds us, 'to a writer, language is fate.'"
—Louise Steinman, Los Angeles Review of Books

About the Author

Jacob Glatstein (1896–1971) arrived in America in 1914 and went on to publish twelve volumes of poetry, seven collections of essays and literary criticism, a wartime novel for teenagers, and the autobiographical novellas translated as The Glatstein Chronicles.

About the Editor

Ruth Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Literature at Harvard University emerita.

About the Translators

The late Maier Deshell translated Book One. He is the former editor of the Jewish Publication Society and translated (with Margaret Birstein) Yehoshue Perle’s Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life.

The late Norbert Guterman completed the first English translation of Book Two of The Glatstein Chronicles in 1962.