Synopses & Reviews
"Two Jews were traveling on a train. . . ." Many Eastern European jokes-and several of the charming and often hilarious conversations in this book-begin this way. From all regions of the world and from all walks of life, the characters are young and full of life and old and ugly; they are rabbis, matchmakers, students, and immigrants. They gossip and speak about everything from the banalities of the world to the unspeakable evils of existence all for a single purpose: to laugh and to celebrate the good luck of being alive. As Biro recounts these tales, we hear not only his voice and the voice of his father, but those of generations of storytellers who have used humor to teach about the truly important issues in life--the delicacy of love, the fragility of friendship, the pitfalls of self-righteousness, the costs of narrow-mindedness, and the unpredictability of life itself. Biro artfully spins each story, lingering on the details, guiding the reader to the inevitable--yet always unexpected--punchline. Taken individually, these stories will make you laugh out loud; taken as a whole, they form an invaluable record of the sensibilities of an entire people. Biro writes: "These Jewish stories of which not a single one happened to me, and of which I did not invent a single one, do describe me, do characterize me, do explain me. They are always my own story. And yours." "There are tales of schnorrers, matchmakers, gossips, immigrants, a golf-playing rabbi. . . . Between the lines are tales of the fragility of love, friendship and of life itself, and the possibilities of redemption. The strength of these stories is Biro's skill as a storyteller and his apparent love of the material. He has alight touch and the tales are short, but packed full of imagery and emotion."--Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Week"A sort of whimsical Jewish Arabian Nights that takes you to Baghdad and New York, Paris and Brussels. If its spirit could be summed up in one sentence, it might be the one from the book describing a 100-year-old patriarch, who 'loved life in spite of his infinite despair about human beings and their condition.'"--Elaine Kalman Naves, Montreal Gazette"Somewhere between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Morey Amsterdam."--Kirkus Reviews"You have to read Adam Biro . . . for the little details between the lines, which are awe inspiring!"--La liberte, on the French edition"In applying an Old World sensibility to the present, the author underscores the nature of the divide between them, and the increasingly despairing punchline of each joke seems to become: Why did You abandon us?"--The New Yorker
So two Jews were on a train. "All Eastern European Jewish jokes start this way, or almost, " says Adam Biro, who has masterfully assembled this rich volume of such stories, tales in which we hear the voices of generations using humor to teach about the delicacy, anguish, and unpredictability of life itself. Biro spins his stories artfully and patiently -- "Biro takes his time, " says the Spectator's Jonathan Mirsky, "a big plus in Jewish jokes" -- gently guiding the reader toward the inevitable, yet surprising, and often poignant punch line.
"Somewhere between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Morey Amsterdam."—Kirkus Reviews
Two Jews were on a train: "All Eastern European Jewish jokes start this way, or almost," says Adam Biro, who has assembled this rich volume of such stories, tales in which—thanks to a masterful translation by Catherine Tihanyi—we can hear the voices of generations using humor to teach about the delicacy, anguish, and unpredictability of life itself.
About the Author
is a French publisher and author who was born in Hugary. His previous books include Dictionnaire général du surréalisme et de ses environs
(coedited with René Passeron) and Tsigane
Catherine Tihanyi is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Western Washington University.
Table of Contents
Translator's Note and Acknowledgments
At the Roths'
The Traveling Salesman
The Time of Day
The Good Catch