An enthralling, entertaining and compelling collection of short stories redolent of the great Yiddish storytelling traditions in tone and style: tackling life’s questions, big and banal, with an evocative, humorous and thought-provoking authority. In each one, Fein excels in drawing the reader into another reality, to experience, to become part of the story and the characters’ lives as they unfold.
“Oh Lord, I know we are the Chosen People but just for once couldn’t you choose somebody else?” is an old plea, heartsick yet ironic, and with it these stories lift off on their journey around the world. From Melbourne to the Gold Coast, from Montreux to Jerusalem the tales examine the question of whether it is better to be chosen or ignored by a capricious creator.
The stories are discrete but connected by their representations of various generations of the tormented. A mediaeval legend taken from the Talmud is gentle with gender ambiguity yet follows it to its unforeseen end. A tale of magical realism tells of a rabbi, a student who falls in love with him and a shadow-soul from a distant era. The three of them dance together in the present but the shadow-soul takes the rabbi back to a time of corruption and evil.
There are depressive lawyers and drunken students and there is a dreamer who finds herself inside the world of the hard-boiled detective. Finally, there is a taste of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the saga of girls living together at an exclusive Swiss school.
Both darkness and humour are brought into play to chronicle the disturbances – large and small – bedevilling the protagonists’ lives. Almost all of them are engaged in problematic attempts to flee reality. Many suffer from the legacy of history’s nightmares yet somehow, with mordant wit and melancholic acuity so characteristic of their tribe, many of them find a way to make their journey worthwhile.
Praise for Yvonne Fein and Choose Somebody Else:
Yvonne Fein’s stories are uncompromising in their expression of human emotions ranging from cold bigotry to empathy, despair to elation, and from rage to love. Fein knows how to tell a story with imagination, compelling dialogue and sustained tension. Informed by a deep knowledge of Jewish lore, and enhanced by years of refining her craft, her tales are driven by a deep yearning to step with compassion and understanding, beyond the shadows of a time when humanity sank to the lowest levels of depravity.
–Arnold Zable, author
“[Fein’s] book is utterly delightful, inspirational and deeply thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It was a privilege to immerse myself in your delicately crafted words. In all the books I have to read as a reviewer, being able to immerse myself in yours was an absolute joy.
–Alan Gold, author and reviewer
“Yvonne Fein’s collection of short stories is plump with Jewish humour, a touch of magic realism and a bisl (little) pathos. She interweaves modern life, colourful characters and Jewish history into a vividly evocative tapestry.
–Jeanette Leigh, author and journalist
“A blend of light and dark, of wry humour and fierce reminders.”
–Clare Allan, Writers Victoria
“There is a sage-like quality to Fein’s stories: a deep commitment to tradition, mingled with moral fury and a complex understanding of our world as it spins out of control.”
–Bram Presser, author
“Fein is a masterly evocative storyteller. With poignant observation, and surgically economic language she imbues her stories in universal and at times mythical narratives. She traverses easily between references to biblical metaphors, cultural literary history, Hassidic folk tales and post WW2 western popular culture. Underpinning the geography, often of her familiar Jewish Melbourne and the socio/political context of her tales are the psychological and emotional scars perpetrated upon the survivors and the second-generation Holocaust survivors. Although the past haunts the present, the future remains surprisingly uncertain in these beautifully crafted stories. This collection of short stories is an important contribution to the canon of contemporary (Jewish) literature.
–Dr Victor Majzner, painter
“These fiercely intense stories carry a serious punch. Although they vary in subject matter – from the travails of a glutton, to the rites of passage of an Australian Jewish Princess, to fantastical stories of Jewish mysticism – they share a terrific energy, a narrative drive, and ultimately a unifying thread. That thread renders the formation of the life of the second-generation survivor, that ‘lucky’ person, born to survivors of the Shoah, who was born to the torments of knowing and half-knowing what it has meant to be a Jew in the Twentieth Century.
Most acutely and succinctly, in her closing story, Fein writes of the Israeli kibbutznik whom terrorists murder at the Munich Olympics: ‘Yossi had come home not to a parade but in a box’. I read these twelve words, knew the world can never manage to love us for long, yet I was ambushed by pain and I wept.
Fein’s title beckons towards that heavy knowing. ‘If the Jews are the chosen people,’ she cries to God, ‘choose somebody else!’
–Howard Goldenberg, author and doctor