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This book, chronicling a forgotten part of Jewish history, follows the life of one extraordinary Jewish bard, and it is told with wry humor

Saturday, October 16th, 2021


Contrary Journey

Velvel Zbarzher, Bard

Jill Culiner

Nonfiction Biography, History, Travel

intrepid pursuit of the elusive troubadour and the lost world from
which he emerged enriches us with a double depiction of the turbulent
times and places of the bard’s era and the galloping
commercialization of our own. Like a chef who manages to document
great recipes before they disappear, Culiner serves us an utterly
delicious feast of flavours we do not want to lose.

Roger, writer, reviewer, Associate Publisher, New Jewish Press

by Culiner to join her travels to find Velvel was a gift in isolated
pandemic times. Part history, part biography and part literature, the
writing poetically transfixed. Train rides, villages, and Velvel’s
life move between magical realism and extraordinary insights into
Jewish history generally missing in heritage tourism.

J Walkowitz, Professor of History Emeritus, Professor of Social &
Cultural Analysis Emeritus New York University, author of 
Remembered and Forgotten Jewish World

captivating romance, a thrilling mystery, a fascinating tour back and
forward in time, and so much more. Culiner takes us out of the
contemporary fast-paced, digital society and superbly redraws the
varied contours of the shtetls of Eastern European countries of yore
via one remarkable itinerant Jewish existence. The book brilliantly
brings back to life the unjustly forgotten Hebrew poet and Yiddish
melodrama author, Velvel Zbarzher, a significant precursor of
Yiddish theatre that moved from Galicia to Romania, the Russian Pale
of Settlement, Austria, and finally Turkey. A breathtaking read!

Mihailescu, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of

a beautiful book! The writing is clear and direct, the subject matter
is interesting and important, and the characters are lively and
realistically portrayed. In short, it’s a good piece of reporting,
and was entirely successful in wafting me to another time and place.

James, former foreign correspondent for the Herald Tribune and UPI,
author of 
Musical World of Marie Antoinette

Old Country, how did it smell? Sound? Was village life as cosy as
popular myth would have us believe? Was there really a strong sense
of community? Perhaps it was another place altogether.

19thc Eastern Europe, Jewish life was ruled by Hasidic rebbes or
the traditional Misnagedim,
and religious law dictated every aspect of daily life. Secular books
were forbidden; independent thinkers were threatened with moral
rebuke, magical retribution and expulsion. But the Maskilim,
proponents of the Haskalah or
Jewish Enlightenment, were determined to create a modern Jew, to
found schools where children could learn science, geography,
languages and history.

Zbarzher, rebel and glittering star of fusty inns, spent his life
singing his poems to loyal audiences of poor workers and craftsmen,
and his attacks condemning the religious stronghold resulted in
banishment and itinerancy. By the time Velvel died in Constantinople
in 1883, the Haskalah had triumphed and the modern Jew had been
created. But modernisation and assimilation hadn’t brought an end to

with a useless nineteenth-century map, a lumpy second-hand coat, and
an unhealthy dose of curiosity Jill Culiner trudged through the snow
in former Galicia, the Russian Pale, and Romania searching for
Velvel. But she was also on the lookout for a vanished way of life in
Austria, Turkey and Canada.

book, chronicling a forgotten part of Jewish history, follows the
life of one extraordinary Jewish bard, and it is told with wry humour
by award-winning Canadian writer Jill Culiner.

to Goodreads

* Books2Read

Born in New York, raised in Toronto, Jill Culiner has lived in England, Holland, Greece, Turkey, Germany and Hungary, keeping body and soul together by delivering newspapers, belly dancing, translating, tour guiding and a great many other tedious jobs. She presently resides in a small French village, similar to the not very pleasant one presented in her mystery, Slanderous Tongue.
For her non-fiction work, Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, she crossed Romania on foot tracing the path of immigrants bound for North America at the end of the 19th century. The book won the Tannenbaum Prize for Canadian Jewish History in 2005 and was short-listed for the ForeWord magazine prize.
As a photographer, her exhibition concerning the First and Second World Wars, La Mémoire Effacée, has toured France, Canada and Hungary under the auspices of UNESCO and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As an artist/creator of social critical objects, her work has been exhibited throughout France and Germany, in Spain, England, Switzerland and Poland. It now fills La Boule d’Or, a former café/hotel transformed into a peculiar mini museum open to the public. Its wild garden (much to the distress of close neighbours) is a reserve for birds, butterflies, insects and reptiles.
She has spoken to genealogical and historical groups throughout the United States and Canada, has worked as a broadcaster for Radio France. An amateur musician (flute, piccolo, oboe, oboe d’amore, English horn) she plays in several orchestras and chamber groups.

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