Recent press for The Story of Yiddish:
From The Jerusalem Post, May 4, 2008 – "Karlen [was] born a skeptic and a rebel, a rabble-rouser and a maverick. Karlen's Jewish soul is evident on every page of his new book, an interesting and quirky and sometimes irreverent look at how the Yiddish language has survived all over the world. He describes Yiddish as trying 'to live life as a mentsh, a human being, not a vilde chaya, a wild beast.' We readers are the lucky beneficiaries of his journey."
From Jewish Book World – "The Story of Yiddish is a book that you will pick up and browse for a while, and come back to later for some more histori-cal/hysterical stories of Jews as they wandered through the world, speaking the only language that tied them together."
"New York Times contributor Karlen (Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew, 2004, etc.) proffers an idiosyncratic take on Yiddish, the heroic vernacular that gets no respect. This wide-ranging survey rejoices in Jewishness rather than Judaism. The author sporadically quotes Lenny Bruce, Isaac Bashevis Singer's Nobel speech and Three Stooges movies to support his notions. He attempts, with easygoing chutzpah (you know, "nerve") to draw apt lessons in linguistics and philology from history, philosophy, sports, literature and showbiz in the old countries as well as here in the goldene medina ("golden country)." – Kirkus Reviews [full text]
"This lighthearted and irreverent history of Yiddish depicts the language as an unlikely survivor of the ages. Karlen charts Yiddish from its beginnings as a minor dialect in the 11th century to its peak in World War II and revival in recent years." – PAKN TREGER--THE MAGAZINE OF THE NATIONAL YIDDISH BOOK CENTER (Amherst, MA)
Despite being mocked for centuries as a “gutter” language, Yiddish is not dead.
The Story of Yiddish entertainingly proves the language was not born to kvetch, but evolved out of the Jews' sense of magic and loss.
The Irish may have saved civilization, but it was Yiddish that saved the Jews. That’s right—the bastard step-child of Jewish tradition, a loathed and unwittingly adopted language that was shunned by the same group of people it mirrored, was actually their saving grace. It’s a piece-by-piece invention, created as the Jews wandered from country to country shlepping around their traditions and families. THE STORY OF YIDDISH: How a Mish-mosh of Languages Saved the Jews [William Morrow; April 8, 2008; $25.95] by critically-acclaimed author Neal Karlen follows their wanderings, mapping out the non-linear history of Jewish tradition, thought, and practice. (Click here to read full press release.)
Neal Karlen was speaking Yiddish at home well before he was an Associate Editor at Newsweek and Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone. A long-time contributor to The New York Times, he has authored six other books, most recently, Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew. He has studied Yiddish at Brown University, New York's Inlingua Institute, and the University of Minnesota's Graduate School of Journalism, where he has taught non-fiction writing for six years. He lives in Minneapolis.
Praise for Neal Karlen's previous work:
"In 2097, if college students are still taking a course called "The
Literature of Fact," now taught by John McPhee at Princeton,
Jen-X, written By Neal Karlen, should be required reading....
both a classic piece of pop-culture ephemera, and a grand record of it.
– Entertainment Weekly
Shanda: the Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew
"A stirring journey with a surprising and deeply moving conclusion. . . Powerful . . . very funny." - Forward
"Amazing . . . Shanda is hilarious, heartbreaking, seething, wary, and, joyful--in a word, a marvel." -Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, on Shanda: the Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew
Slouching Toward Fargo
"Hilarious, insightful, touching, informative... vivid characters and ironic redemptions. Karlen is simply one of the best, most sophisticated, and literate practitioners of journalism we have... I loved every page of this book." - Philip Lopate, on Slouching Toward Fargo
"Rollickingly funny." - Chicago Sun-Times
"The best baseball book of the decade." - The San Francisco Chronicle
"A classic . . . captures the essence of America's true pastime." - Kirkus Reviews