Jeremy Dauber’s biography of Sholem Aleichem is beautifully written, following the threads of the writer’s too short life (he died at 56) and the stories he invented, and their characters, which have taken on lives of their own. “The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye” (Nextbook/Schocken), is the first comprehensive biography of the giant of Yiddish literature.
In the style of his subject, Dauber includes descriptive chapter titles, beginning with “In Which We Begin Near the Very End” and later on, “In Which Our Hero Finds the Two Loves of His Life.” The book is structured in five acts, with an epilogue.
Dauber, a professor of Yiddish literature at Columbia University and director of its Institute for Jewish and Israel Studies, opens his biography by pointing out that if you’re an American of a certain age, or certain generational span, “between the times Sid Caesar first mugged for a television camera and the premiere of Seinfeld,” there’s no talking about Sholem Aleichem without talking about “Fiddler on the Roof.”
But by all means, Sholem Aleichem (the pen name of Sholem Rabinovitch — it means Mr. How Do You Do) was not Tevye. He was an intellectual and serious writer, dedicated to his craft. His was a life of great romance, fortune gained and lost, war and revolution and writing — letters, plays, stories, novels, essays, and newspapers articles. The book also chronicles his afterlife, which is still young, as Dauber points out, for his work is still studied, presented and reinterpreted around the world. While Dauber and Solomon employ different spellings of the writer’s name, they share a deep appreciation for his brilliant use of language and his humor.