Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof.

Author:Strauss, Lauren B.
Position::Book review
 
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Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof. By Alisa Solomon. New York: Metropolitan Press, 2.013. 44$ pp.

At the El Al gate at Kennedy Airport recently, I fell into conversation with a lovely couple about to embark on a Christian tour of the Holy Land. They were excited to visit sites that held religious significance for them and spoke of their preparations toward a greater understanding of the Jewish people. Later, walking in the airplane aisle, I found myself standing behind my new friends' seats, with their personal laptop screens clearly visible. The movie that accompanied them as the 747 made its way toward Tel Aviv was none other than Fiddler on the Roof\ If, indeed, this was part of the travelers' self-designed homework, no greater proof was needed to bring home Alisa Solomon's contention in Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, that the show (and its 1971 film version) serves as "a Jewish signifier" (2). Never mind the absence of Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, modern Israel or Zionism, or references to any other time or place in Jewish history; for the past fifty years, a professionally constructed Broadway musical about the singing denizens of a fictional eastern European shtetl has served as a teaching tool and constructed identity for Jews and non-Jews alike. In her thoroughly-researched and often compelling history of the show, Alisa Solomon has written the comprehensive volume that such a cultural touchstone deserves.

Like Tevye the Milkman's family, whose life stories provide the scaffolding on which to build a near-universal tale, Solomon creates a genealogy for Fiddler, beginning with its roots in Tsarist Russia as created by the beloved Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Many other Yiddish cultural figures from Eastern Europe and America make appearances here: Mendele, Peretz, An-sky, and Cahan; Jacob Adler, Boris Thomashevsky and Maurice Schwartz; along with descriptions of Tevye der milkbiker's various forms and translations. These cameos are augmented by discussions of political context, theater, and the pros and cons of "performing Jewishness" in twentieth century America. Though chock-full of interesting detail, this first section of the book is the least engaging, perhaps because so much of the information here has been covered elsewhere, in works accessible to readers interested in topics ranging from Sholem Aleichem's life to the Broadway musical. This is a volume that wants to...

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