BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘The Lost Shtetl’ by Max Gross

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, the host of the 80+ episodes of Book Stew, a 30-minute video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, featuring authors, playwrights, voice artists, and journalists.

‘The Lost Shtetl‘ by Max Gross

Do you have to be Jewish to love this book? No. You just have to be the type of reader who enjoys a bit of historical magical realism.

In this tale, the tiny, insular Polish shtetl (Yiddish for ‘village’) of Kreskol has been hidden in the deep woods, beyond modern viewing and imagination, surviving world wars and undiscovered even by Nazi troops when Poland was overrun.

When a contentious married couple divorces (very rare) and then disappears, a baker’s apprentice is recruited to venture into the outer world and find them. Yankel hitches a ride with gypsies, the only outsiders who travel through Kreskol, and is brought to Smolskie, the nearest small city.

Here, Yankel makes the startling discoveries of cars, trains, cellphones, televisions, internet, and planes, and lands in a psychiatric hospital where he finds sympathetic staff members who help him to make a gradual adjustment to the perils and pleasure of what for him is a true new world.

We also follow the couple Yankel is seeking, Pesha and Ishamel, as they go their own separate and doomed ways. And back in Kreskol, everything changes when the whole of Poland and the entire world marvels at their secret existence.

This is a delightful adventure story, filled with humor and pathos.

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