And So Is the Bus: Jerusalem Stories
“Yossel Birstein is a born flaneur. He is to Jerusalem as Baudelaire is to Paris, Dickens to London, Joseph Mitchell to New York.”
Vivian Gornick, author of The Odd Woman, and the City: A Memoir
Each of the twenty-one stories in this collection is an evocative “reporting” of Yossel Birstein’s encounters with everyday people who ride the city’s many bus lines â€“ housewives, Chasids, beautiful women, a blind man, a shoemaker, an angry daughter, bus drivers, and more. These scrupulous translations give us a feel for the tone of Birstein’s Yiddishized Hebrew — a tone that is wry and empathically attuned to the voices and appearances of his chance meetings from one day to the next. In “Under the Pressure of Time,” for example, two buses are stopped side by side — we listen in on the shouting of two women through the open windows:
“Aliza! Aliza! Why didn’t you come to the funeral?”
. . . He bent slightly, trying to see this Aliza who hadn’t been at the funeral. A tower-shaped earring dangled from Aliza’s right ear along her neck, reflecting in the mirror of our bus.
“Carmella?! Carmella?! How was it there?” Aliza’s voice rang out above the noises of the intersection. Two of her fingers were playing with the earring, and she turned her ear to listen to the details while the stoplight remained red.
Birstein’s prose savors the conversations of these bus riders, who are anything but ordinary. “The world is moving on,” says a character in “Stolen Glance.” “And after a short pause added: ‘And so is the bus.'”
“I consider Yossel Birstein one of the great Jewish authors of the 20th century, and I’m talking about the scale of Kafka and Agnon.”
Professor and critic
Tel Aviv University
Yossel Birstein (1920-2003) was born in the small Polish town of Biala Podlask — at 16, he left for Australia to join his grandparents in Melbourne. Yossel married Margaret Waisberg, a young refugee from Germany, and served in the Australian army during WWII. In 1950, he, Margaret, and daughter Hana immigrated to Israel, where he worked as a shepherd in Kiryat Gvat. Their second daughter, Nurit, was born in 1956. In 1970, the family moved to Jerusalem where Birstein became an archivist at the Hebrew University. He published novels and collections of stories — those of And So Is the Bus are from Stories Dancing in the Streets of Jerusalem and Stories from the Realm of Tranquility. Among Birstein’s numerous awards are the The Prime Minister’s Prize twice (1987; 1999) and the Itzik Manger Prize for Yiddish Literature (1991)