There is a bus route in Upper Nazareth that, to judge from the passengers, stops in Georgia, Morocco and India. Among the characters observed are old night-watchmen, men in long white pantaloons, a Parisian drunk who asks a wall to move, side-street hawkers and the peanut man. There is also writer Yossl Birstein, who knows that he often appears as odd as the people he describes; in Birstein's world everyone does.
These vignettes are made up of 30 or 40 lines, encompassing a rich plot and a penetrating image of humanity, muted by Birstein's tolerance and humor. Two pages may contain whole lives and continents, but no accessories or frills.
Birstein’s vignettes are set in Israel, but the people carry the baggage of the Jewish diaspora. Memory and imagination fuse two worlds, sometimes three.
Critic Menahem Perry draws a comparison between Birstein's view and that of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who digressed to tell stories and observations, noting the bizarre and the offbeat. That way, he implied, truth is to be found. As critic Jeffrey Green noted, Yiddish is there, too: "The substratum of Birstein's native language adds depth, for the writer's insights are first filtered through a world-wise folk language."
English translation available (for publishers only)