If Jane Austen had been a Russian-Jewish wiseguy born in the 19th century, instead of an English Protestant smarty-pants born in the 18th, she might have been Sholem Aleichem—and she might have written Wandering Stars
, first published in America a hundred years ago and newly translated from the original Yiddish. Sholem Aleichem was a playwright, novelist, story writer (his Tevye the Dairyman
became the musical Fiddler on the Roof
) and one of the great observers of the human circus. His long out-of-print novel, just released by Viking, is big, broad, and a little bawdy, a rough-and-tumble group of stars, starmakers, and wannabes. Our unlucky lovers, Leo and Rosa, make their way from their shtetl in Russia—with all their friends and frenemies—to makeshift stages in London and then to New York's Lower East Side, center of the Yiddish universe. In this mischievous, compassionate, and chaotic story, it's as if even the narrator throws up his hands and says: "People! What craziness!"
Sholem Aleichem could be your favorite high-handed, unblinking (except when it comes to sex), storytelling grandfather. Uneven pace, unexpected entrances and exits, juggling lives and surprises—this is the Big Apple Circus of novels, and Sholem Aleichem is a ringmaster with chutzpah.
— Amy Bloom