Seeds in the Desert By Mendel Mann, translated by Heather Valencia

A new translation from the Yiddish Book Center's White Goat Press

The early years of the State of Israel are usually associated with a precarious military situation, waves of immigrants, the idealistic kibbutz movement, and the atmosphere of a hard scrabble society trying to find its footing. But the country was also home to a new wave of Yiddish literature, often written by refugees who had arrived from Europe after the Holocaust. This is the setting of the opening stories in Seeds in the Desert, a collection by Yiddish writer Mendel Mann published in an English translation by Heather Valencia as the inaugural book in a new venture by the Center to publish Yiddish literature in translation.

“The presence of the ancient landscape pervades the first group of stories, and within that landscape the characters are living out their own traumas,” Heather tells Pakn Treger. “He doesn’t in any sense draw any kind of rosy-colored picture, but shows the darker sides of the development of the state. He shows the ambiguities and the difficulties of life in that time.”

As the collection progresses, the stories move backward chronologically, taking the reader through Mann’s experiences in the postwar Soviet Union and prewar Poland, a structure that mirrors the characters’ experiences of dealing with their own traumatic histories and changed circumstances.

“All these different characters just keep stumbling upon something that reminds them of their worst memories, and it interrupts their efforts to rebuild their lives,” says Madeleine Cohen, the Center’s director of translation and collection initiatives. “I think it’s a really compelling exploration of identity and how people try to handle trauma and move forward.”

Purchase a copy of Seeds in the Desert

Listen to translator Heather Valencia on The Shmooze