Friday, April 10, 2015

Books That Surprise You - Sounds Crazy, No?

One of the best parts about reading is stumbling across a book and falling wildly, madly in love with it.

I had medium expectations for Wonder of Wonders, a Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof by Alisa Solomon.  Yes, I like musical theatre (Stephen Sondheim is a god, btw), but a “cultural history?”  That sounded dry, like a failed thesis project.  I’d read a biography of Jerome Robbins, the choreographer/director, and I knew the musical (how did the bottles stay on the dancers’ heads during the bottle dance?  Because they better not fall off, that’s how), so why not give the book a chance?

Wonder of Wonders starts with Sholem-Aleichem, the great Yiddish writer, and explores the world of Yiddish theatre.  I knew a little about Sholem-Aleichem, but not much (okay, nothing) about Yiddish theatre.  And – go figure – it’s fascinating.  The book talks about the making of the Broadway show, but spends as much time talking about about culture and storytelling and the importance of keeping history alive. 

The book is beautifully written.  And parts made me cry – a chapter called “Fiddler While Brooklyn Burns,” about an inner-city school doing a mostly African-American and Hispanic production of Fiddler – amazing. 

Even if you’re not a musical fan, this is a book to read and savor.

"Here in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!"

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