In the late 1970s, I first started reading the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991). The event that sparked my reading was likely his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. He wrote and originally published only in Yiddish; eventually, his works were translated into English. Perhaps more than any other writer, his stories and novels helped to preserve, even if in a small way, the Yiddish culture of Poland and Easter Europe that was destroyed by Nazi Germany.
His stories are filled with ghosts and conmen, rabbis and rounders, saints and sinners. He had grown up in Poland’s Yiddish culture before he emigrated to the United States in 1935 (he saw correctly perceived the Nazi threat). From his own experiences, and those of family and friends, he had a huge well of memory to draw upon.
I was reminded of Singer’s stories when I read “Grandma Rachel’s Ghosts” by Jonathan Dunsky. The author calls it a fantasy story, but I have my doubts. Grandma Rachel is dying, and she’s unnerving her daughter and the family with what sound like ravings. She’s claims to be talking to her two dead sisters, and no one else can see them.
That is, until grandson Jacob arrives. As a child, Jacob spent a lot of time with Grandma Rachel. And he’s seen the two sisters many times, dressed in long woolen dresses, talking with his grandmother and commenting on everything from how to raise Jacob properly to baking desserts. Jacob also knows the sisters’ stories.
Dunsky is best known for his Adam Lapid mystery stories, with five published and the sixth soon to be. The five are Ten Years Gone, The Dead Sister, The Auschwitz Violinist, A Debt of Death, and A Deadly Act. He’s also published The Favor: A Tale of Friendship and Murder; Family Ties; Tommy’s Touch: A Fantasy Love Story; the short story “The Unlucky Woman,” and other works. He was born in Israel, served four years in the Israeli Army, lived in Europe for several years, and currently lives in Israel with his family. He has worked in various high-tech firms and operated his own search optimization business.
This short story, like those of Singer, linger long after you finish reading them. It’s indeed about two ghosts, but it’s also a story of how culture and memory are transmitted through the generations.