A Novel Story

What was the first Yiddish novel by a woman to appear in book form?

Unlike some other questions that Yiddishists love to debate—The greatest work of Yiddish modernism? The best-dressed Yiddish writer? I. J. Singer versus Isaac Bashevis Singer?—this one should be fairly easy to answer. After all, we’re hardly spoiled for choice. While growing numbers of women published in Yiddish newspapers and magazines from the 1900s, most of this work consisted of stories or poems rather than novels. And of those serialized novels, very few made it to book publication. Rokhl Faygnberg's short prose works appeared in book form from 1909 and her novel Af fremde vegn (Strange Ways) in 1925. The story of an illicit affair, its publication in Warsaw was acclaimed precisely because a full-length hardcover novel by a woman was such a rare event. Sarah Smith was another pioneer. A crime reporter and columnist for the New York Yiddish paper Der Tog (The Day), her novel Di froy in keytn (Woman in Chains) came out in book form in 1919. However, at only 115 pages, it's more of a novella than a novel.

Pakn Treger’s candidate is Miriam Karpilove’s Dos tagebukh fun an elender meydel (Diary of a Lonely Girl). Published in book form in 1918, it’s 335 pages long and takes a jaundiced look at love and romance in the new free-for-all immigrant milieu. Both of the copies in our collection look extremely well-thumbed, probably by multiple eager readers. It's currently being translated by Yiddish Book Center translation fellow Jessica Kirzane.

If you know of an earlier Yiddish novel by a woman in book form, please let us know at [email protected]

— David Mazower