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Sholem Asch - from idol to pariah
Helen Kaye
09/17/2007
Although he died in London, Asch's last years were spent in Bat Yam where his house has become a museum.
Sholem Asch was one of 10 children raised traditionally in Kutno, Poland. His first job was writing letters for illiterate Jews in a nearby town. By the time he wrote God of Vengeance in 1901, he was living in Warsaw, the center of Jewish literary life. He began writing in Hebrew, but Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz advised him to switch to Yiddish, and he wrote in that language for the rest of his life. God of Vengeance was Asch's first major success, followed by Reb Shlomo Nagid in 1912. That year, he and his wife left Poland for Paris, settling in New York in 1914. After the end of World War I, Asch moved back to Poland, and from there back to France in 1925. During the Twenties and Thirties Asch was lauded throughout the literary world. This period produced books like the Three Cities trilogy (1929-31) that moves from the turn of the century to the 1917 October Revolution, Salvation (1934) and after visiting Palestine in 1936, The Song of the Valley (1939) about the Jewish pioneers. By then he was back in the US. Then came The Nazarene (1939), his historical novel about Jesus. For his once adoring Yiddish readers, Asch the idol became Asch the pariah, the apostate and the corrupter of Jewish youth. Near universal critical praise for the book only fueled the invective that did not diminish with the publication of The Apostle (1943) and Mary (1949). Although he died in London, Asch's last years were spent in Bat Yam where his house has become a museum.
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