by Avrom Sutzkever, translated by Zackary Sholem Berger
Avrom Sutzkever’s Green Aquarium is a collection of twenty-three short stories, or “short descriptions” (to use Sutzkever’s term). Published in 1975 by the Hebrew University Press and Tcherikover Publishers, Green Aquarium comprises two separate collections, one titled “Green Aquarium,” the other, “The Messiah’s Diary.” The stories range in length from two to fifteen pages. Most are narrated in the third person, though some are in the first person.
The stories take place in a magical, surrealist landscape. Inanimate objects speak; the dead and the living exist on the same plane. Reoccurring motifs shape the contours of Sutzkever’s fantastical imagination: Animals undergo transformations; humans flee death and achieve their own metamorphoses. Cities are destroyed, buildings uprooted from their accustomed places. The narrator, as in Bashevis’s monologues, is privy to the secrets of interlocutors who thought they might not find anyone to speak to again.
In her magisterial introduction to the book, Ruth Wisse, who published a few translations of these pieces, characterizes the setting of the pieces as a “world of violent dislocation.”
“The Cleaver's Daughter” is an otherworldly allegory of creation, fire, love, and death, set in the ever present past of Sutzkever's childhood in the city and countryside of Jewish Lithuania. Download a pdf of the story at the bottom of this page.
—Zackary Sholem Berger