Abraham Karpinowitz’s Vilna My Vilna, with Helen Mintz
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What two major themes run through Abraham Karpinowitz’s writings?
Helen Mintz is an internationally acclaimed solo artist, storyteller, translator from Yiddish to English and teacher based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has toured her one woman shows in Canada, the United States, and Lithuania, and she also teaches storytelling workshops to children, youth, and adults in large and small groups.
Helen began performing to share Eastern European Jewish experience with both Jewish and non Jewish audiences, telling family stories she learned as a child. She then set out in search of the stories she was never told, doing research, studying the Yiddish language and working with Jewish seniors. Her original versions of traditional Jewish stories have been published, recorded, and are told by many other tellers. Helen’s work has been broadcast on radio and television both in Canada and the United States.
She also translates Yiddish literary works into English. In 2016 Vilna My Vilna, her translation of short stories by Yiddish writer Abraham Karpinowitz, won the J. I. Segal Translation Award for a Book on a Jewish Theme and also the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the category of Yiddish. In 2017 it received Honorable Mention for the Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature.
Yiddish writer Abraham Karpinowitz was born in Vilna, Poland, which is now Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1913, and the city serves as both the backdrop and the central character for his stories. He survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and returned briefly to Vilna in 1944, later settling in the State of Israel, where he died in 2004.
His stories provide an affectionate and vivid portrait of poor working women and men, like fishwives, cobblers, and barbers, and people who made their living outside the law, like thieves and prostitutes. Karpinowitz wrote his stories and memoirs in Yiddish, preserving the particular language of Vilna’s lower classes.
Another characteristic of Karpinowitz’s writing is his intertwining of actual historical and contemporary figures with fictional characters, which gives the sense that the fictional stories actually happened.
Karpinowitz wrote books of short stories, two biographies, and a play. His work has been translated into German, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian. He won the esteemed Manger Prize in 1981.
The stories that Helen Mintz has included in Vilna My Vilna (available here) take place between the two World Wars, and some are set in the Vilna Ghetto and Ponar, just at the brink of World War II, which often makes the endings of these tales especially poignant.
This collection also includes two stories that function as intimate memoirs of Karpinowitz’s childhood growing up in his father’s Vilna Yiddish theater.
Our guest this week is Helen Mintz, who is speaking with us about Abraham Karpinowitz and her translation of his work.