Blaming Inna Hecker Grade for Bashevis Singer’s Greater Success in English


NOTE: As someone fortunate enough to have had some NYT letters published over the decades, I fully anticipated the non-publication of this one (9 March), and hope none will take amiss my publication of it here in the interests of putting out there a (not yet offered?) second opinion on a woman against whom I feel there has been some unwarranted invective. —DK

Re “In the Papers of Yiddish Novelist Chaim Grade, Clues to His Lesser Fame” by Joseph Berger (March 6)

To the Editor:

The magnificent Yiddish author Chaim Grade well equals Isaac Bashevis Singer in talent and output, but it is wrong to blame his wife (or their marriage) for the failure of his work to attain equal status in English translation.

Grade’s profound preservation of the intricacies of pre-Holocaust East European Jewish civilization (with vast religious minutiae delightful to folks in the tribe) is just not in the genre of Singer’s stark, universalist, compelling plots that are moreover enriched by untrammelled sexuality and bespoke kabbalah.

The tempestuous marriage of two high-flyers is no novelty on our planet. A gleeful triumphalism in flaunting a couple’s intimate barbed exchanges can approach voyeurism.

The same Inna Hecker Grade, who didn’t allow access all those decades after Chaim’s death, also meticulously preserved intact every last scrap, down to his final unfinished page in the old typewriter. Time to confront this curious incarnation of the witch hunt.

Vilnius, Lithuania

In recent years, the writer has taught advanced level courses on Chaim Grade’s Vilna-based prose at the New York Workmens Circle online Yiddish studies program.

Postscript: Works by Chaim Grade that appeared in English translation during the author’s lifetime include The Glow of Extinguished Stars [poetry] (in Joseph Leftwich’s The Golden Peacock, 1951); My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner (in Howe & Greenberg’s Treasury of Yiddish Stories, Viking 1954); The Man of Fire [poetry] (in Ruth Whitman’s Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry, 1966); The Well (JPS 1967); three short stories (including The Seven Lanes of the Vilna Ghetto) included in The Seven Little Lanes (Bergen Belsen Memorial Press 1972); The Agunah (Twain Publishers 1974); “Sanctuaries in Ruin” [poetry] (in Joseph Leftwich’s Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry, Mouton 1974); The Yeshiva [Tsemakh Atlas] (Bobbs-Merrill 1976-1977); Rabbis and Wives (Knopf 1982). After Grade’s death, Inna Hecker Grade enabled publication of My Mother’s Sabbath Days (Knopf 1986).

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