I’m waiting for mail. I blame conversations. I also blame virtual and hybrid science fiction conventions. This last month, I’ve been to a couple, and one of them worked out how people could get that casual chat that’s such a part of face to face conventions. And all this is good… except…. Except… when one is sitting at one’s computer (notice how I distance myself from something I’ve done) it is the work of but an instant to buy that book that the group is talking about.
A group of prize-winning Korean writers talked about influences on their work, for instance, at VICFA (the Virtual meeting for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts) and one of them threw casually into the conversation that the most important writer was finally in translation. Reader, I now own Kim Bo-Young’s I’m Waiting for You.
Most books are still heading my way.
Only one has arrived, and it’s related to me trying to understand why the popular view of Jewish history in central and eastern Europe is so very wrong (mostly) for anything prior to the 1770s. What happened in and around the 1770s, was the partitioning of Poland. A vast country (the whole of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) went, to describe it a bit simplistically, from being dominant, to being under the rule of others. Most of the sense of Jewish history we have came from places under Russian rule, which is currently very topical. So many lives were changed so profoundly and for such a long period, that we still think of Tevye the Milkman as being a kind of Universal Nice Jew and Anatevka as being the classic stetl and stetls being the only place Jews could live in all those vast regions.
I know more of the history of the region now, and understand both why the change happened, and why a lot of people take the position of Jews in the late Russian Empire as typical and push it back to the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries. I need to know more about how people actually lived. Polish SFF fandom is helping me in this endeavour, but I also have to help myself. I helped myself to much reading. Some I’ve borrowed, some I’ve read online, but very occasionally there is something I must buy because I live in a city with too small a Jewish population to obtain it locally. A book by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the most recent ‘must-buy.’ It’s called The Golden Age Shtetl. A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe.
My little library of Jewish history is slowly growing, as is my knowledge. This book covers the transition period, when Jewish life changed so dramatically. Before the book begins, there was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where Jews could work in almost any trade and lived in cities and towns. At the end of it, we have that dream of a small town or even village Jew, being thrown out of their home by an uncaring Tsar.
The reality is complex, but if I can understand those changes, I’ll know my own heritage but I’ll also be able to write more about it, whether using it as a setting for fiction, or writing critical essays. The immediate reason I bought the book is partly because someone mentioned it and I checked it out, but mostly because I had a conference paper on Jewishness in a couple of works of fiction accepted and I need to know this book to write it. Right now, my subject knowledge is cumbersome. One day, learning about this subject will tip down the artificial mound of rubble made by ill-digested information. As I roll down that hill, everything will suddenly be clear.
And now I must watch for mail. I’m still missing eleven books. They’re all work-related, just as these two are, and every single one of them is likely to upend things I thought I knew and maybe, just maybe, push me off that hillside and start on the real learning.