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After Anatevka: A Novel Inspired by "Fiddler on the Roof"

Review

After Anatevka: A Novel Inspired by "Fiddler on the Roof"

“Fiddler on the Roof” as a musical was not an original work in its own right. Rather, it was an adaptation of a series of 19th-century Yiddish short stories by Sholem Aleichem written at a time when anti-Semitic violence remained a long-standing reality prior to both world wars. In this manner, Aleichem’s works were expanded into a larger world whose trials and celebrations of life still remain much loved to this day.

In the foreword to AFTER ANATEVKA, written by actress and singer Alexandra Silber (who most recently starred in the Broadway revivial of “Fiddler on the Roof”), award-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick notes, “In the theater, it’s customary for a performer to create a ‘back story’ for the character she (or he) is playing…of the character’s activities up to the moment when she (or he) steps onto the stage.” With a musical as beloved as “Fiddler on the Roof” exposing the audience to Anatevka, a village rich with Jewish tradition surrounded by vicious outside influences, it makes sense that someone familiar with the famous production would take it upon himself or herself to continue exploring the lives of its characters after the events of the play have ended.

"While at times the insertion of Hodel’s flashbacks perhaps unintentionally acts as an obstacle to the plot’s progression, these brief moments bring a slightly deeper insight into the relationships between Hodel and her mother and sisters."

AFTER ANATEVKA focuses on Tevye’s second daughter, Hodel, as she goes to Siberia to reunite with her fiancé Perchik, who is exiled to a labor camp for being sympathetic to the Socialist resistance and whose tragic backstory is explored in the book’s second half. The first part begins with Hodel being sent to a Siberian prison for looking suspicious as an unmarried woman traveling alone. She stays there for 18 months, and is starved, tortured and sexually assaulted by prison officials. Throughout her imprisonment, she dreams about her childhood in the shtetl with her family. Eventually a governor known as The Gentleman arranges for Hodel’s reunion with Perchik in the Nerchinsk labor camp, albeit for a terrible price not made apparent until later in the novel.

While at times the insertion of Hodel’s flashbacks perhaps unintentionally acts as an obstacle to the plot’s progression, these brief moments bring a slightly deeper insight into the relationships between Hodel and her mother and sisters. “So you see, bread is not just nourishment for our bodies but also for our spirits,” says the mother Golde as she is teaching Hodel and her sisters to make challah (a braided bread roll typically eaten on Shabbat in Jewish tradition). Silber goes on to describe the moment the bread comes out of the oven: “They beheld their creation. Golden, warm and inviting. The aroma of it beyond description but evocative of home and comfort. The smell of this moment would remain with them throughout their lives…. Never, not ever in the history of the entire world, could bread have tasted so good.” Moments like this become so poignant with the amount of devastation and nostalgic vibes weaved (sometimes clumsily) throughout the novel.

AFTER ANATEVKA attempts to expand the world already covered much better by the musical. However, clunky prose, a humorless chemistry between Hodel and Perchik, and revisited terrain sets the novel back, making it a lukewarm spinoff at best.

Reviewed by Gabriella Mayer on July 21, 2017

After Anatevka: A Novel Inspired by "Fiddler on the Roof"
by Alexandra Silber

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • ISBN-10: 1681774348
  • ISBN-13: 9781681774343