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ISBN 978-0-8101-3591-8

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3592-5
Publication Date
September 2017
Page Count
264 pages
Trim Size
5 x 8


A Novel
David Bergelson, Translated from the Yiddish by Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich

Never before available in English, Judgment is a work of startling power by David Bergelson, the most celebrated Yiddish prose writer of his era.
Set in 1920 during the Russian Civil War, Judgment (titled Mides-hadin in Yiddish) traces the death of the shtetl and the birth of the “new, harsher world” created by the 1917 Russian Revolution. As Bolshevik power expanded toward the border between Poland and Ukraine, Jews and non-Jews smuggled people, goods, and anti-Bolshevik literature back and forth. In the novel’s fictional town of Golikhovke, the Bolsheviks have established their local outpost in a former monastery, where the non-Jewish Filipov acts as the arbiter of "judgment" and metes out punishments and executions to the prisoners held there: Yuzi Spivak, arrested for anti-Bolshevik activities; Aaron Lemberger, a pious and wealthy Jew; a seductive woman referred to as "the blonde" who believes she can appease Filipov with sex; and a memorable cast of toughs, smugglers, and criminals.
Ordinary people, depicted in a grotesque, aphoristic style—comparable to Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry—confront the overwhelming, mysterious forces of history, whose ultimate outcome remains unknown. Murav and Senderovich’s new translation expertly captures Bergelson’s inimitable modernist style.
About the Author

DAVID BERGELSON (1884–1952), a Jewish novelist, short-story writer, and literary editor, was born in Ukraine. He moved to Berlin in 1921 and traveled throughout Europe and the United States until Hitler came to power in Germany. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1934, where he was eventually executed under Stalin’s orders. The author of The End of Everything and Descent, Bergelson was one of the most widely read Yiddish-language writers of the twentieth century.
HARRIET MURAV is a professor of Russian and comparative literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia and Holy Foolishness: Dostoevsky’s Novels and the Poetics of Cultural Critique.
SASHA SENDEROVICH is an assistant professor of Russian and Jewish studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has published on Soviet Jewish culture and literature, including on Yiddish writer Moyshe Kulbak’s novel The Zelmenyaners, as well as on contemporary fiction by émigré Russian Jewish writers in America.

"Nearly 90 years after its original publication, this ahead-of-its-time novel by one of the best-known Yiddish writers of his era proves powerfully relevant in its first English translation." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review 

"Only in the hands of a master stylist such as David Bergelson could such descriptions not only work but seem utterly right. Even the most brilliant stylists, though, are at the mercy of their translators. Happily, Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich’s new translation, the first to appear in any language—delivers a miraculous taste of the original Yiddish in English. Though perfectly timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, its themes of mercy, judgment, and revolution are entirely appropriate for a secular kheshbn hanefesh (accounting of the soul). Twenty-five pages of illuminating notes on the literary and historical context of the novel will also make you feel a lot smarter—never a bad thing." —Tablet 

"A must-read for anyone interested in the Russian Revolution, Jewish life under Bolshevism, and the early 20th century in Europe." —Book Riot 

"Set in a town by the Polish-Ukrainian border, Judgment renders that border constantly felt but never seen; when a character approaches the border, she disappears from the view of the narrator... [there is also] the significance of Bergelson’s having written this novel of the Revolution at a remove, from Berlin: as J. Roland Matory notes, 'The Diaspora invents the homeland.' Perhaps similarly, writing at a distance from a European center allowed Bergelson to imagine revolution at the periphery." —Anna Elena Torres, The University of Chicago

"A brilliant, nightmarish look at a world without boundaries set alight by madmen. David Bergelson's Judgment belongs on the shelf with the very best literature of the early Soviet period." —Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure: A Memoir and The Russian Debutante's Handbook 

"...Bergelson’s haunting tale plunges readers into an unsettling world of shifting allegiances and whispered rumors that transform ordinary men into towering figures and thoughts into waking nightmares... Bergelson (The End of Everything) writes in jaggedly structured prose that, while intentionally disorienting, often shines with wry humor and poignant beauty." —Publishers Weekly 

". . . Judgment is anything but a work of lesser literary merit. Nor is it a work of propaganda. Instead, like Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, Bergelson’s novel is an idiosyncratic portrait of the revolution’s impact on multiethnic Ukraine, as well as a dramatization of one artist’s reckoning with the forces of history." —In Geveb

"...a penetrating, darkly funny, and nuanced tale of shtetl Jews caught in the post-Revolution Civil War... an important work" —Rokhl Kafrissen

"Thanks to Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich for this vivid, meticulous translation of Bergelson’s novel about provincial Jews caught up in the Russian civil war.  For readers now, burdened with hindsight, this immersion into the violence, idealism, pragmatism, and confusion of the moment is a bracing historical corrective.” —Alice Nakhimovsky, author of Russian Jewish Literature and Identity and coauthor (with Roberta Newman) of Dear Mendel, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America

"Judgment is a tour de force of Yiddish modernism, capturing the radical social transformations of the Bolshevik revolution and civil war registered in the everyday lives of Jews and non-Jews living in the former Pale of Settlement." —Allison Schachter, author of Diasporic Modernisms: Hebrew and Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century

"Murav and Senderovich's expert translation of Bergelson’s important novel brings to light one of the most compelling narratives of the fate of Jews in the Russian revolution and the brutal Civil War that followed. Judgment can now finally find its rightful place in the canon of Russian and Jewish literature."  —Jeffrey Veidlinger, author of Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

"The novel offers a sensitive, and deeply humanizing, portrayal of the petty criminals arrested for anti-Soviet behavior... With Judgment, David Bergelson prompts his readers to view humanity with compassion in a rapidly polarizing movement." —Times Literary Supplement